Seena Ounsinegad and her mother alternated between English and Farsi, two voices in the anxious chatter of fourth-year medical students and their learning loved ones where would-be doctors would head towards further training.
Each person has made a distinct journey so far Friday to McGovern Medical School, and Ounsinegad’s is intertwined with that of his family.
His mother’s struggles with depression and anxiety inspired him to pursue psychiatry. And as a gay man born to Iranian immigrants, he sees the need to help minorities in a healthcare field that is difficult to access and often taboo.
After years of education, Ounsinegad and her family celebrated her tenure at the UT Southwestern psychiatric residency in Dallas. He is one of hundreds of medical students in the Houston area to advance their careers through the National Resident Matching Program, an annual event that aptly falls on St. Patrick’s Day this year.
“Oh my God,” Ounsinegad said, fanning herself in the hugs of her mother, father, brother and grandmother. “My God.”
The 25-year-old from Austin is one of 242 undergraduates who attended the program at McGovern and one of the 60 percent of students who fit into Texas residencies. Nearby, Baylor College of Medicine matched 165 students, with 42 percent placed in the state. Both schools reported high match rates in the primary care areas with the greatest shortages, approximately 43% at McGovern and 50% at Baylor.
The findings, hidden in envelopes and opened by medical students across the country at exactly the same time, led to many tears and cries of joy from graduate doctors and their families in Houston. It hasn’t been easy: Their freshman year got off to a bad start when an off-campus emergency canceled the McGovern class white coat ceremony, and then they spent more than three of their four years learning their craft during the COVID pandemic. -19.
In a first for the school, rainy weather forced students inside for this year’s Match Day celebration. But those raindrops did nothing to dampen the day’s excitement.
“They said it’s never rained on game day before, and they’ve never had to do game day indoors,” McGovern class president John Biebighauser told his friends. “But the class of 2023, we did. You know, from the very beginning, from the white coat ceremony through today, I really can’t think of a more representative way for the class of 2023 to wrap up our experience at the school of medicine .”
At Baylor, class president Nasim Khalfe said COVID was a defining experience that spurred his classmates to action.
“Rather than sitting around, it was so inspiring to witness an innate understanding among our class of how critical it was to continue building our community,” she said. “We adapted. We handled every twist and turn thrown our way and did it with a smile. Or at least we learned to smile with our eyes behind a mask as we care for our patients and each other.” .
Even with a challenging experience in medical school, some students hoped to stay in Houston. Approximately 25 percent of McGovern students will remain with the program and 29 percent of Baylor students have internally matched, according to the programs.
“I’m really grateful to be able to stay at McGovern,” said Nadia Livingstone, who is majoring in child neurology. “It was great to finally hear this after waiting so long.”
Most of the class were ecstatic, though many tried to hide their disappointment at not matching their first choice residences. A handful of classmates also weren’t there because they didn’t match: Of the 42,952 applicants nationwide who certified a ranking, the most on record, 34,822 of them were matched with a program. The thousands who didn’t match, including some in Houston, had to scramble to find vacant positions this week.
None of the students celebrating Friday at McGovern needed to worry. Stephanie Lee will be a radiologist in residence at the University of Washington, and her eyes only filled with tears as she thought of leaving her friends behind.
Alex Wilkinson, of Utah, said he and his wife found a supportive community in Houston while raising their children, 4 and 1, during his medical school. He entered an anesthesiology residency at Duke University.
“We are thrilled,” he said. “This is the perfect ending to everything.”
Ounsinegad was no match for his first pick, but UT Southwestern was at the top of his list. And he said Texas may need doctors like him: He pledged to promote diversity, equity and inclusion work in hospitals, as well as gender-affirming care for transgender patients, both under threat from Republican leaders in the legislature.
“I want to make that a priority, and I think for any specialty it should be a priority,” she said, referring to gender-affirming care.
In addition to working in LGBTQ spaces, Ounsinegad said she wants to help immigrant and refugee communities. In high school, her mother’s depression ran rampant. Even with a supportive family, she said she has seen a stigma against mental health care in Iranian culture, with many of her relatives questioning why she couldn’t just help herself more, she said.
Ounsinegad’s mother, Mahtab Yamini, said she was thrilled with her son’s choice to enter psychiatry. The importance of her son’s successes did not escape her.
“It was kind of a challenge raising a kid when you weren’t born here,” she said. “As a mom, I’m so happy that we could give them the opportunity here in the United States that we as parents would feed them and now we’d see this glory.”