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The COVID-19 crisis has brought a whirlwind of changes that have impacted everyone in our community — including this year’s graduating class of medical students at UW School of Medicine.

In the last few weeks, the students were pulled from their clinical rotations early.

Then, the difficult and unprecedented decision was made to hold the School’s Match Day ceremony online.

Match Day is the culmination of the National Residency Matching Program, when students all across the country learn where they will spend the next three to seven years as residents. Typically, the Match Day ceremony brings hundreds of students together with their faculty, friends and family to celebrate.

Yet the UW School of Medicine 2020 graduating class took these changes in stride, asking for ways to help, spreading their medical knowledge to those in need, and finding creative ways to come together and celebrate one another’s success.

A social distancing graduation

On Match Day, instead of gathering in-person, students took to a video chat to watch a slideshow of photos from throughout their medical education, share their matches, and send love and support to each other. They even created a shared Google map to see where everyone matched.

“There were thousands of emails and texts; my iMessage stopped working because I was getting so many texts,” says Mack Holmberg, a student from the graduating class. “It’s a bummer to have it cancelled, but then when it happened everyone was so excited to have results, know where they were going, and to share that with loved ones.”

In the online ceremony, Doug Paauw, MD, a professor of General Internal Medicine, offered words of congratulations and encouragement:

“You are going to be models of what a true healer is. I have seen in your actions these last few weeks, as we deal with COVID-19, the very best of what our doctors are. I am more hopeful than I have ever been before that we are going to come out of this crisis as a very good profession. You are going to be the backs that will carry us.”

The graduates

Here, two students share what brought them to medicine and what their hopes are for the future.

Mack Holmberg matched with his first choice, UW Internal Medicine. August Longingo couples matched with his wife at their first choice, University of Colorado, in internal medicine, with hopes to then do a fellowship in critical care.

Why medicine?

Mack: I’m a cellist and grew up in music. I wanted to combine healing with connecting and sharing emotion through music, and I realized I could do that by being a doctor in a clinical setting and working with patients. It was about applying the ability of the arts to connect and share emotion through a medical perspective.

August: My folks are both tropical biologists, and we spent a lot of time in Costa Rica when I was young. I became interested in international development work, and I went and worked for an American NGO that did health delivery work in Ecuador. It sparked my interest in helping people in the most basic way possible. I studied international development, democracy, and building strong states and realized you can’t do any of that stuff if people are too sick to vote or go to school.

Why your specialty?

Mack: I did my internal medicine rotation at the Montlake campus [UW Medical Center — Montlake] and fell in love with how supportive, caring, curious and hyper intelligent all of the internists were. I came to realize that even though I was spending 28 hours at the hospital, I still wanted to go back.

August: At the beginning of my time at UW, my mother fell 60 feet out of tree when she was doing research on the Olympic Peninsula. She was flown to Harborview before my MS1 year, and it only took week and a half for her full recovery. I think that early positive experience with the ICU combined with my ICU rotation showed me that it’s an incredibly powerful, specialized unit where all the parts work together well and you can have good outcomes and meaningful conversations with people’s families. I got to see the art of medicine in that field.

What is your favorite medical school memory?

Mack: For me, there are three distinct phases. There are the first two years, just spending hours and hours together struggling through things and being triumphant through it all, together. In third year, it was great meeting my classmates from other sites at every rotation. And then fourth year has been really wonderful because it’s a time where we came back together, and even though we were apart for a year, we’ve become so much closer.

August: There is this ramshackle old mansion on the Montlake cut across from the medical center from the 1940s or ’50s that was a part of the nationwide Phi Chi medical fraternity. The local UW chapter basically served to provide subsidized housing for med students. Natalie, who is now my wife, and I both lived there when I started med school.

My second year of medical school, there was an electrical fire in the basement at 4 a.m., and we all ran out on the lawn and watched the house burn down. We had to go find places to live. But then Natalie and I bonded by deciding to be the ones to get the med house rebuilt. We reached out to alumni, contacted doctors in the area and negotiated with insurance companies. It’s now back up and functioning; it’s full of MS1s and MS2s. It took about a year but that’s a lasting contribution we made to UW. It’s something we will both remember very strongly.

What are you looking forward to?

Mack: I’m looking forward to working with the medical students. I really love teaching, it’s something I want to do with my career.

August: Just getting to the next chapter is a huge deal. Colorado University has a great program. We’re excited for the academic quality — we both want to do research. It’s perfect for us in a lot of ways.

Watch the slideshow

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