Excitement, nerves and anticipation often accompany travel plans — so the student-selected theme of “Where to Next?” was the perfect complement to Match Day at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health on Friday, March 17, the day medical students nationwide learned where they were matched for clinical residency training programs.
The travel theme symbolized students’ next adventure into residency, involving actual travel across the country for some and a metaphorical trip to the next stage of their medical education for all. The hybrid event hosted students and their supporters in person at the school, with additional family and friends tuning in from around the globe.
The festivities started with skits acted out by the school’s medical education leadership posing as the day’s flight crew, and a speech from “pilot” Dean Robert N. Golden, MD. Golden shared his guidance as students awaited the news about where the next leg of their professional journey would take them.
“You should start your residency travels with a general sense of where you are going, but stay flexible, open to new opportunities and flight changes,” Golden said. “No matter where your professional journey leads you — whether it’s in primary care or subspecialty practice, in research, community practice, academics, or administration — always keep your focus on the patient.”
This year, 153 students matched into residency programs in 29 states plus the District of Columbia. Of students who participated in the match process, 100% were matched into a residency. More than one third of matching students are pursuing residency training in family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics. A third of matching students will complete their residencies in Wisconsin, invigorating a vital state physician workforce. Other students plan to return to Wisconsin to practice after their residencies.
Students’ backgrounds are intrinsic to their choice of specialty, with their life experiences molding the kind of physician they will become. While they have taken various paths to a career in medicine, connections to family and community often shaped students’ decisions about their contributions to society.
Spencer Treu hopes to give back to his rural hometown as a general surgeon
Spencer Treu hails from Hillsboro, Wisconsin, and is one of many students not traveling in a literal sense for residency — he matched into general surgery at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation in La Crosse, Wisconsin. A member of the school’s Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM), Treu is receiving special training to improve the health of rural communities. He already lives in La Crosse because the Gundersen Health System serves as the school’s Western Academic Campus and is a partner in WARM. Treu said he ultimately plans to serve as a rural surgeon in his hometown, which is served by Gundersen.
“I am super excited for this next step and I’m going where my family and I wanted to go so it feels like home,” he said. “It is that feeling that you are going where your hearts wants you to go. This moment feels like the culmination of everything our class has worked for, but we also know that now is the time to buckle down and get to work. We have a lot to learn as we more fully become the next generation of health care providers.”
Treu recalls the moment he realized he was going to be a doctor. As fate would have it, it was a Saturday night just days before he was set to begin his junior year at Winona State University and matriculate into a completely different program. While that realization caused a pivot in his academic trajectory, the Wisconsin native now says it’s all part of a plan that will eventually lead him back home again, to serve his community as a practicing physician.
An internship with rural community general surgeon Dr. LeRoy Trombetta during his undergraduate years solidified his interest in serving rural patients in this specialty. While local family medicine physicians are emblematic of small-town doctors, Treu believes general surgeons also play an enormous role in rural health and can serve as pillars of the community.
In another twist of fate, Trombetta is now a physician at Gundersen and a clinical assistant adjunct professor in the school. He has continued to mentor Treu during WARM and will continue to mentor him during his residency.
“I began to realize while working with Dr. Trombetta what a rural surgeon can bring to a community, what they are called on for, and how valuable that is,” Treu said. “From the significant trauma and injuries that are common in rural communities to being involved in something like a cancer screening, surgery, and follow-up care, a skilled general surgeon can be an extremely important component of a critical access hospital serving a rural area.”
Even as a student, Treu was making an important contribution to his hometown through his WARM community project. Knowing that small towns often face issues attracting health care professionals, his concept was to spark interest from within, specifically with those most likely to remain in their community. He created a new course at his former high school to expose students to a wide range of health professions that is now self-sustaining.
“I wanted to increase peer exposure to careers in health care and present this path as a realistic option for kids like me from Hillsboro,” he said. “I thought it was important to generate excitement for these careers that can be pursued anywhere but also right in our area.”
Connections to health care lead Jonathan Le to ophthalmology
For Jonathan Le, inspiration for his specialty began in his uncle’s optometrist office and was solidified by other family members who are physicians. The avid snowboarder is traveling to the mountainous Pacific Northwest for his next step at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, for his ophthalmology residency.
“I would always play with my uncle’s equipment and thought it was fascinating,” he said. “I also met an ophthalmologist early in my life as well who gave me LASIK surgery at 18 and let me shadow him. In medical school, I have co-led our ophthalmology interest group and volunteered in our free eye clinic for the underserved. I plan to continue to consider how I can better serve these communities during my career.”
During medical school, Le was drawn to a specialty that would let him experience a continuity of care with patients, getting to know them and building relationships. This drew him to family medicine at first, but then he realized he was also experiencing this during his ophthalmology rotation. He added that being involved in research in medical school and having great mentors has led him to consider a career in academic medicine.
“I realized that as an ophthalmologist I could build relationships with patients for many years and it really solidified my choice,” said Le, who helped plan the school’s Match Day event for his peers. “The eye is incredibly fascinating because it is such a small organ, but we are all highly focused on it. It can be impacted by systemic issues like diabetes but many other ailments and injuries specific to the eye. It is so small but the field is so large, and I look forward to getting started.”
Motherhood inspires Megan Murphy-Belcaster to career in women’s health
Megan Murphy-Belcaster’s very personal life experience led her on a path to medicine. Though not initially aspiring to be a physician, Murphy-Belcaster gave birth to a child. While having a baby changed her plan to join the Peace Corps, it did kickstart her interest in medicine, and particularly a passion for women’s health and obstetrics and gynecology.
“I did study biology and had done research in undergrad so was a woman in science, but had never considered medicine until I grew my own human being,” she said. “It was my pregnancy and my experience with delivery that got me interested. It truly ended up being a blessing. All of medicine is a privilege, but I love how intimate obstetrics and gynecology is. There is something very specific about it. It’s about pregnancy and becoming a mother and it’s about gynecological issues. I feel so honored to have had patients trust me with these conversations and be continuing on this path.”
As a member of the Lakota and Choctaw tribes, Murphy-Belcaster was welcomed by the school’s Native American Center for Health Professions (NACHP) during her admissions process. She said the support provided by NACHP was a strong reason she attended the School of Medicine and Public Health and was integral to her success. As she approaches the end of medical school, her now family of five will be moving to Chicago for her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University.
“Match Day is a joy because it puts a place to the job and gives it a job description,” said Murphy-Belcaster, who served as a student planner for the event. “As a community, we see our hard work become real, just like that, in the exact same moment.”