Bernard Sarmiento ’22MBA opened his Match Day 2024 envelope, saw the name “Harvard” and thought of his mother, a psychiatrist he saw care deeply about her patients.

Both of Sarmiento’s parents died during his four years at UCF’s College of Medicine. “It would have been my mom’s dream to see me match here,” he says, moments after learning where he will do his residency. “She was my role model. I am going to try to make my parents proud.”

UCF College of Medicine Dean and Vice President for Health Affairs Deborah German speaks to students moments before they open their match envelopes.

He was one of 117 UCF seniors placed into residencies Friday — every student secured a match — and one of a record 16 who are going into psychiatry as their specialty of choice. The Class of 2024 had been unique in medical history. Called the COVID class, they entered medical school in 2020 — the height of a pandemic. They didn’t receive their white coats in the traditional UCF ceremony. They drove through the parking lot of the Medical Education Building, where student affairs leaders and staff put a coat, laptop and orientation materials into each student’s car trunk. The class attended their first year of medical school on Zoom.

“Know you are resilient,” Deborah German, vice president for health affairs and medical school dean, told the class minutes before noon, when thousands of medical students nationwide learn where they will spend the next three to seven years of residency training. “COVID-19 has changed so much about our world, and you have persevered and thrived through all the challenges.”

Matching into Top Programs Across the U.S., Florida

Nationwide, in addition to Harvard, UCF students will train at programs including Baylor, Boston University, Duke, John’s Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, Tufts, USC, Vanderbilt and Yale. Forty-one will do some or all of their training in Florida, in residencies that include University of Florida, University of Miami and University of South Florida. Five will train at UCF-HCA Healthcare residencies in Greater Orlando and Pensacola. Three will train at AdventHealth, two at Nemours Children’s Health and five at Orlando Health.

Marcy Verduin, associate dean of students and a practicing psychiatrist, was not surprised by the high number of UCF medical students dedicating their careers to treating mental illness. “These students saw the impact the pandemic had on mental health for so many people and they want to be part of the solution,” she says. “These 16 are students who really love talking to patients and helping them address their problems.”

Matthew Caldwell ’20 says he fell in love with psychiatry while caring for veterans at the Orlando VA Medical Center during his third-year psychiatry rotation. He will do his residency training at Dartmouth.

“One of my favorite memories in med school was working with veterans and helping them get better,” he says. “I am so grateful to have that chance. It’s very rewarding after the service they gave to our country.”

Yamilet Gonzalez ’20 will specialize in orthopedic surgery, where 91% of physicians are male.

Yamilet Gonzalez ’20MS dedicated her medical school experience to improving health equity and advocating for more women in surgical specialties. She matched into orthopedic surgery at Louisiana State University. Orthopedics is one of the most competitive specialties nationwide, and all seven UCF students who sought orthopedic specialties placed on Match Day.

“Orthopedics is the coolest surgical specialty because mobility is very important to health and you can see the impact immediately. You can change someone’s anatomy to correct a deformity or improve their functioning,” Gonzalez says.

Gonzalez, a first generation Dominican American, was motivated to pursue medicine based on her experiences as a child helping her immigrant family navigate the healthcare system. She helped create Medical Enrichment for Diverse Students (M.E.D.S.), a program that received national recognition for providing mentorship and clinical exposure to Orlando high school students from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in medicine.

UCF Football Player, Jeopardy Finalist Match

When Kyle Benkel ’20 came to medical school, he traded his UCF football jersey for a white coat. A wide receiver on the team that beat Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl, Benkel was also an honors graduate at UCF’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. He matched into family medicine at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, his first choice.

As a UCF undergraduate, Kyle Benkel ’20 was wide receiver on the team that beat Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl and was also an honors graduate at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.

“I wanted to go into family medicine just because of the variety of patients you have, from newborns to geriatric patients,” he says. “I’m also super excited about the opportunity to do sports medicine.”

As a UCF undergraduate, Hannah Sage ’20 finished in third place at the Jeopardy! College Championship finals. Friday she matched into pathology at Yale. “I have always been someone who really likes to solve puzzles,” she says. “For me, pathology is solving a puzzle, figuring out what kind of tumor it is or whether it’s benign or not. I just find so much joy in doing that and helping patients figure out the next step in their treatment plans.”

After eight years at UCF, Sage is looking forward to her residency.

“UCF has been amazing,” she says. “I really couldn’t have asked for a better journey into medical school and throughout medical school and I feel so prepared for my future.”