On game day, McGovern placed Baylor students in residence halls

Seena Ounsinegad and his mother alternated between English and Farsi, two voices in the anxious chatter of fourth-year medical students and their loved ones learning where the aspiring doctors would go for further training.

Each person took a distinct journey to that moment Friday at McGovern Medical School, and Ounsinegad’s is intertwined with his family.

His mother’s struggle with depression and anxiety led him to invest in psychiatry. And as a gay man born to Iranian immigrants, he sees the need to help minority populations in a healthcare system that is difficult for them to access and is often taboo.

After years of education, Ounsinegad and his family celebrated the assignment to UT Southwestern’s psychiatry residency in Dallas. He is one of hundreds of medical students in the Houston area to advance their careers through the National Resident Matching Program, an annual event that appropriately fell this year on St. Patrick’s Day.

“Oh my God,” Ounsinegad said, breathing between hugs from his mother, father, brother and grandmother. “OMG.”

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The 25-year-old from Austin is one of 242 graduating seniors participating in the program at McGovern — and one of the 60 percent of students there who match with residences in Texas. Nearby, Baylor College of Medicine saw 165 students match, with 42 percent placed in state. Both schools reported high percentages matching in the primary care areas with the greatest shortages, about 43 percent at McGovern and 50 percent at Baylor.

Pandemic learning

The results, hidden in envelopes and opened by medical students around the country at exactly the same time, prompted many tears and shouts of joy from the graduating doctors and their families in Houston. It wasn’t easy: Their first year got off to a rough start when an off-campus emergency canceled the McGovern class’ white coat ceremony, and they then spent more than three of their four years learning their trade during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In the first half for the school, rainy weather forced the students inside for this year’s match day celebration. But those raindrops did nothing to dampen the tension of the day.

“They said it’s never rained on game day before and they’ve never had to play game day indoors,” McGovern Class President John Biebighauser told his friends. “But the Class of 2023, we did. You know, from the beginning, from the white coat ceremony to today, I really can’t think of a more representative way for the Class of 2023 to end our medical school experience.”

At Baylor, class president Nasim Khalfe said that COVID was a defining experience that drove his classmates to action.

“Instead of sitting back, it was so inspiring to witness an innate understanding among our class of the importance of continuing to build our community,” she said. “We adapted. We handled every plot twist thrown our way and did it with a smile. Or at least we learned to smile with our eyes behind a mask while caring for our patients and each other.”

Even with a challenging experience in medical school, some of the students hoped to stay in Houston. About 25 percent of McGovern students will remain with the program, and 29 percent of Baylor students matched internally, according to the programs.

“I am very grateful to be able to live at McGovern,” said Nadia Livingstone, who specializes in pediatric neurology. “It was great to finally know after waiting so long.”

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Most of the class was ecstatic, although several tried to hide their disappointment at not matching their first-choice housing. A handful of classmates were also absent because they didn’t vote — of the 42,952 applicants nationwide who certified a ranking list, the highest number on record, 34,822 of them fit into a program. The thousands who didn’t match, including some in Houston, had to scramble this week to find unfilled positions.

None of the students celebrating Friday at McGovern needed to worry. Stephanie Lee is a radiology resident at the University of Washington, and her eyes just fill with tears when she thinks about leaving her friends.

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