After all her hard work, and all the anticipation, Evelinda Gonzales could not have been happier with the news she got on Match Day 2013.
“I’m so happy. So, so happy. I’m shocked. And very, very excited,” she said, after learning she got her first choice: a family medicine residency with the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque.
Gonzales is one of 110 students who matched on March 15 – the 32nd Match Day at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson. The class is made up of 64 women and 46 men. Seven of the 110 students are Hispanic and two are Native American.
This year’s program included “Give Your Regards to Match Day,” with students performing hilarious spoofs on popular Broadway shows and movies. Gonzales, for example, performed as a French peasant in “Les Miserables,” while Randi Heller had the lead role in “Mary Poppins.”
Gonzales was born in Albuquerque, while her father, Carlos Gonzales, MD, did his residency at the University of New Mexico, after graduating from the UA College of Medicine. He is now an assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at the UA, where he also graduated from medical school.
Following in her father’s footsteps was not always Evelinda Gonzales’s intent.
“I tried to convince myself that I wanted to do something other than family medicine, but it didn’t work,” she said, with a smile. “I grew up seeing everything that he worked for and everything that he did to try and improve the lives of those around him.”
But eventually, the choice became clear.
“I’m very passionate about primary care and working with underserved populations,” she said. “And I really enjoy the variety of patients and settings that family medicine offers, and I’m passionate about women’s health. You just put it all together and family medicine was really the right thing for me.”
Gonzales, 28, a graduate of the University of Florida in Miami, is one of 10 medical students with the UA College of Medicine – Tucson who will graduate with a dual degree. She is one of six students who have earned a master’s in public health from the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, in addition to their medical degrees.
“During my third year of medical school, I realized that while I was learning so much about caring for individuals' health, I could increase the impact I could have as a physician if I gained training on how to affect the health of communities as well.”
Two students will graduate with MDs and master’s degrees in business administration. Two others will graduate with MD and PhD degrees.
Brian Vander Werf also matched to his first-choice program. After a preliminary year at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, he will transfer to the University of California at San Diego for his residency in anesthesiology.
“It feels great,” he said. “It feels like a lot of hard work has paid off. And I feel really fortunate that I’ve been able to come to a place like this medical school where they really set us up for success.”
Vander Werf, a native of Grand Rapid, Mich., applied for medical school after serving as an Army Reserve medic in Iraq, from July 2005 to May 2006. He was inspired to join the military after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“It was some of the most stressful and overwhelming, and yet, incredibly rewarding, work I’ve ever done,” Vander Werf said of his year in Iraq. “At those times when you felt exhausted, you felt incredibly invigorated, because you knew you were doing something worth doing.
“In the course of my job, I was able to see what physicians do on a day-to-day basis. I realized that I felt most rewarded when I was there to help and intervene in the most critical moments of a person’s life. Medicine was the only thing I could see myself doing.”
Vander Werf, 30, chose anesthesiology, he said, because it also offers the opportunity “to be there at the most critical moments of someone’s life. . . and I think it’s extremely rewarding as well.”
Brian continues to serve in the Army Reserve as a First Lieutenant, and plans to continue serving during his residency and as a practicing anesthesiologist.
Randi Heller and James Libbon were married on February 17. Knowing it would be more of a challenge to match as a couple, Heller applied to 17 residency programs in psychiatry, and Libbon, who wants to specialize in geriatrics, applied to 21 programs in internal medicine.
“We’re really ecstatic,” Libbon said, after they learned they would be going to the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. “It was really high up on our list. I did a rotation there, and that’s when I fell in love with Denver.”
Heller nodded in agreement. “He likes the cold. I like the sun. So now we’re going to have the best of both worlds.”
Heller, 27, traces her decision to become a psychiatrist to her undergraduate studies, which started in engineering. “About halfway through I realized I have to do something with people. So I switched over to biology and psychology. I’ve always been intrigued from a very young age about how people think, their behavior and their interactions. I also like the fact that in psychiatry, you get the opportunity to focus on the whole person and not just the problem.”
Libbon, 29, said he probably wanted to go into geriatrics “before I even knew it. My dad is an attorney and I used to go with him to a senior center where he provided free service. The people there were always fun and fascinating to me.” His residency choice became clear after taking an elective class in geriatrics, which gave him the opportunity to shadow physicians in nursing homes, and work with homeless seniors.
Heller and Libbon will leave the College of Medicine with a joyous legacy:
DOC-apella, a singing group that they started in August of their first year.
DOC-apella is a group of medical students and faculty who perform a capella at medical school functions, nursing homes and health centers – wherever they are invited. The 16-member group was the closing act for the Match Day 2013 Tucson ceremony.
James directs DOC-apella. He studied music theory in high school and sang in six choirs as an undergraduate at the UA. Randi, who graduated from Northwestern University, is manager and a singer with DOC-apella. She joined her high-school choir, and sang in an a-capella group in college.
“The connections you form with people you share music with are just phenomenal,” Heller said. “We (DOC-apella members) have become so close it’s like a little family. And when you sing for patients, or whoever you sing for, it really lights up their day.”
Kevin Moynahan, MD, the College of Medicine’s deputy dean for education, was asked to comment on the success of these students.
“Brian, Randi, James and Evelinda represent the Class of 2013’s diverse talents and interests,” Moynahan said. “The entire class is filled with similar stories of achievement and talent, and I have high expectations for their contributions to the health of our society.”