Zach and Anna Thompson were forced to sit out a year of medical school after Zach was hit by a car and gravely injured while changing a flat tire on his way to class.

“I went from having to navigate medical school to just surviving,” says Zach, who spent a week in intensive care. “I just remember having to continue to hope, and needing to find joy in my experiences, despite my condition. I want to help kids find that hope and that joy as they recover.”

On March 19, holding their 3-week-old son, Samuel, the couple got one step closer to their goal as they opened their Match Day 2021 envelopes and learned they will do their pediatrics residencies together at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX.

The Thompsons were among 38,106 medical school seniors across the nation — and 113 at UCF — to match into residency programs as part of National Match Day 2021.

“We’re so excited and so thankful,” Anna said after learning their match results.  “We’ve had the opportunity today to reflect on just how thankful we are for all the help we had from the school and our friends and family along this journey.”

The Big Moment

UCF students are going to outstanding programs across Orlando, the state and nation for their graduate medical education. Forty-five are staying in Florida for all or part of their training; this includes 11 at UCF-HCA Healthcare residencies in Central Florida, two at AdventHealth, two at Nemours Children’s Hospital and seven at Orlando Health.

Nationwide, students are going to programs that include Brown, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Harvard, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

This year’s match process was dramatically different because of COVID-19. Instead of the typical in-person residency interviews, all were conducted virtually. One student described diving to South Florida for a “windshield tour” to get a feel for the community he might serve.

The pandemic canceled last year’s traditional UCF Match Day celebration on the medical school’s Tavistock Green. This year, UCF was determined to hold a physically-distanced, in-person event for students who wished to participate.

Leaders organized a drive-thru Match Day in the medical school parking lot decorated with banners, balloons and UCF flags. Students and their guests parked in assigned spaces. Everyone wore masks. About 50 students attended the in-person event, while others received their match information by email at home.

Medical school deans across Florida told Deborah German, vice president for health affairs and dean, that UCF was the only school attempting an in-person event this year. UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright and his wife, Melinda, also attended the event that featured new, giant celebration banners hanging on the Medical Education Building.

At the end of the event, students drove a car parade past the medical school.

“Nothing — not even COVID-19 — can change the excitement we feel today,” German told students from a stage set up in the parking lot. “Medicine has never needed you more.”

Why They Became Doctors

Philip Wessels and Tryphina Mikhail are the two UCF medical students going to Nemours. Wessels is a former Green Beret who spent most of his adult life as a medic for the Army’s Special Forces. Wessels says service to others is why he entered the military and why he’s becoming a pediatrician.

“Children are the most vulnerable and they need advocates more than anyone,” he says. “As a pediatrician, I can offer my service to the people in the community who need it most.”

Mikhail asked her mother to open her match envelope and both shed tears of joy when they learned the daughter had matched into her top choice. Mikhail held a hand-painted white doctor’s coat — a gift from her brother, a first-year UCF medical student — when she received her acceptance letter from UCF’s medical school. On it were colorful animals, symbols, flowers and “Dr. Tota” — her nickname.

“Pediatrics is the best opportunity I know of to make an impact on kids and their parents,” she says. “You are there for the whole family.”

Medical students Simeon Thibeaux ’15 ’17MS and Kristen HoSang ’17 met when they both attended and tutored microbiology labs at UCF’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. Now engaged, they screamed with joy when they learned they will train in the same area. HoSang will do her surgical residency at Temple in Philadelphia. Thibeaux will do his psychiatry residency at Metropolitan Hospital Center in New York City.

In the days before match, Thibeaux noted that he’d spent 11 years at UCF. A Burnett Honors Scholar, he earned his bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and master’s degree in biotechnology, receiving awards for his research into fatty liver disease. He thought he would become an orthopedic surgeon until he did his third-year psychiatry clerkship at the Orlando VA and University Behavioral Center where he fell in love with helping patients address their mental health issues.

“I think I am more to be grateful to UCF than anybody in our class” he says. “I feel like all of my professors were so dedicated to giving me everything that I needed to decide what I wanted to do with my life and they really opened up my world up in so many ways.”

HoSang says she decided to become a doctor at age 6. She had health problems as a child, underwent heart surgery at two weeks old, and was “enamored with my pediatrician. I just thought his job was so great. And I wanted to do that.”

“I want to give back to the community that helped raise me.”

Josh Bobet will do his internal medicine residency at his first choice, Orlando Health. Born in Lake Nona, Bobet earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Florida and then returned to Orlando for medical school. He and his family decorated his car in black and gold paint and UCF flags for the Match Day event.

He put on an Orlando Health baseball cap immediately after opening his residency envelope. “I wanted to train at Orlando Health,” he says, “because I want to give back to the community that helped raise me.”

UCF-HCA Residencies Add 190

UCF-HCA Healthcare’s graduate medical education (GME) program gained 190 new residents on March 19’s National Match Day, including 11 graduating seniors from the UCF College of Medicine.

The UCF students matched into specialties including emergency medicine, internal medicine, orthopedic surgery, surgery and psychiatry in HCA hospitals across the state. This summer, when residencies and fellowships begin, UCF-HCA will have 512 physicians in its training programs, including two new programs at West Florida Hospital in Pensacola. The partnership is one of the fastest growing GME sponsors in Florida.

“I am pleased that we are seeing more UCF students matching in programs across Central Florida including general and orthopedic surgery in Ocala,” says Diane Davey, associate dean for graduate medical education. “We hope these students will choose to practice here in Florida after their residencies and help us address major doctor shortages in many specialties including psychiatry.”

Mabit Gonzalez is one of those UCF psychiatrists in training. After graduating in May, she will do her residency at HCA’s Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee and also see patients at the Orlando VA Medical Center in Lake Nona. She was delighted with her match results, saying the UCF-HCA program was her top choice.

“I really love Orlando,” says the Miami native. “I did a rotation at Osceola and loved the residents and the faculty. The program felt like I belonged.”

Gonzalez says she has always been passionate about helping people with mental health challenges, noting that a close friend suffers from depression. And her UCF faculty mentor, Assistant Dean Martin Klapheke, is an award-winning psychiatrist who helps run the UCF-HCA psychiatry residency program.

“I am so excited by this opportunity,” she says. “Dr. Klapheke is who I want to be when I grow up.”