When Fabliha Anbar was 10, she watched her older cousin suffer from a rare eyelid cancer that impaired her vision and eventually claimed her life. Anbar knew then that she wanted to dedicate her life to improving and restoring sight.

“As I watched my cousin undergo her treatment, I realized how much weight sight holds, and these feelings increased as I realized how much vision is a large part of my life,” the UCF College of Medicine student says. “As someone who makes art, I find joy and comfort in seeing colors and textures.”

On Jan. 14, Anbar cried and hugged her mother as she learned her dream is coming true. She matched into an ophthalmology residency at the University of Tennessee and is one of six UCF fourth-year medical students to match into the highly competitive specialty.

“This means the world to me,” says Anbar, who comes from a large family of physicians including her father and grandfather. “I absolutely cannot imagine doing anything else.”

While the majority of the nation’s medical students will learn their residency match on March 20 — this year’s National Match Day — some specialties, including urology, ophthalmology and military-based residencies, announce matches early. In December, two UCF military officers matched into residencies at military hospitals from across the country. Urology residencies will be announced Jan. 17.

Medical school graduates must complete a residency program in their chosen specialty before they are able to practice. Students apply for and interview with residency programs and then rank their choices. Residency programs do the same. A computerized service then matches top choices from both.

Becca Trieu was equally elated to match into ophthalmology at the Medical College of Georgia. Trieu grew up in an underserved village in Vietnam and saw many seniors, including her two grandmothers, suffer vision loss and blindness because they didn’t have access to healthcare.

She wants to use her ophthalmology training to help improve health around the world.

“I hope to go on mission trips, help establish local eye clinics, and help train future ophthalmologists in other countries.” — Becca Trieu, UCF College of Medicine student

“Global health has always been my end goal in medicine,” Trieu says. “After training, I hope to go on mission trips, help establish local eye clinics, and help train future ophthalmologists in other countries.”

Nationally, ophthalmology is considered one of the most competitive residencies. Each year, more than 650 medical students apply for only 464 residency positions available throughout the country.

“I’m thrilled for all of our students who matched into ophthalmology,” says Marcy Verduin, associate dean of students.  “This is such a competitive field, and to have six students matched into ophthalmology is a testimony to their hard work, dedication, and passion to the field.  I look forward to seeing all that they accomplish in their careers.”

For Jason Day,  a fascination with the eye and the opportunities for surgical and clinical innovation drew him to the field of ophthalmology. He will stay local and receive training at University of Florida.

Samantha Prabakaran will train at the Medical College of Virginia. Having worked in eye clinics locally and abroad she witnessed the economic and social devastation patients suffered when they lost their vision.

“I have seen the incredibly positive impact ophthalmologists can bring about in people’s lives by restoring vision,” she says.  “Matching into ophthalmology puts me one step closer towards caring for patients with vision impairment and working to improve their quality of life.”