I'm walking through an otherwise empty FedExForum Thursday when one of the uniformed ushers asks, "Do you do elbows?"
I don't, but it's a good bet that at least one of the roughly 150 medical students in the UT College of Medicine class of 2005 does "do elbows."
The graduating class met in the FedExForum's club level last week for Match Day, the fingernail-biting, nausea-inducing event when medical students all over the country learn which hospital will hire them as residents. For months before the Match, students explore hospital programs, interview with them, and then rank their top choices. Students can include as many programs as they want, but it costs $30 for each additional program over 15 that they put on their list.
Similarly, hospitals rank the students they want and the National Resident Matching Program uses a complex algorithm to match students with programs.
At the FedExForum, with the darkened arena looming behind them, the students are nervous, but the mood seems jovial. As Dr. Pat Wall, the associate dean of admissions and student affairs, comes to the microphone, students yell out, "Freebird!"
"You may have heard that the match went great. 2005 is the best match I can remember," he says. "That means you had a great dean's letter. ... No, the truth of the matter is you did well, your strategy was great, and you didn't pick your nose during your interviews."
A few moments later, he looks at his watch. It's noon, 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the national moment of truth.
Envelopes are given out. Immediately, a male voice yells, "I got Boston! Whoo!"
The next few moments are bedlam. Envelopes are ripping, people are laughing, crying, jumping up and down. Most of the medical students are on cell phones.
"I couldn't concentrate on what they were saying this morning [at a financial aid seminar]," says Megan Danekas. She and her husband, fellow medical student Michael Danekas, are both headed to the University of North Carolina. "We had a good feeling about it, but you never know," says Michael.
The whole room is a chorus of "I'm going to ... I'm going to ..." One guy grabs the mic and asks for everybody's attention. "Anybody going to Kentucky, please report to John-Paul."
Those medical students who don't match -- none of their choices picked them -- learn of their misfortune early and have to participate in a nationwide scramble, trying to find a program somewhere in the country that still has positions open and will take them.
"We sit down with them Monday afternoon and talk about their strategy for the scramble," says Wall. "They get a book of unfilled positions, and on Tuesday, they start calling hospitals."
Natasha Tejwani, who will be working at the Jacobi Medical Center in New York, got a call from the hospital shortly after opening her envelope.
"They called to ask if I had any questions," she says. Like many of the future residents, she is relieved.
"My life isn't in limbo anymore. I know where I'm going," she says. "People seem happy or still shell-shocked. It's the culmination of everything. We're physicians now. We have jobs ... for most of us, for the first time in four years."