After just two days of planning, Stony Brook University in New York used a business and college video conferencing platform so fourth-year medical students could participate in the nationally recognized Match Day celebration on March 20. This came despite the growing number of canceled college events being made due to fears of the coronavirus outbreak.
On Match Day, colleges and universities throw celebrations for fourth-year medical students seeking residency and training positions. Over 35 higher ed institutions, including Columbia, Brown, Ohio State, University of Washington, Rutgers and University of Michigan, canceled their celebrations because of COVID-19, according to the Student-Doctor Network.
“Match Day is the most important day of the life of a medical student,” says Latha Chandran, vice dean of academic and faculty affairs of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. “Students even remember this day more than their graduation. It’s that important.”
For the general public, the university also live-streamed the online college event via Facebook Live on the Stony Brook Medicine Facebook page.
Making Match Day 2020 an online college event
Originally, Stony Brook officials canceled Match Day for Renaissance School of Medicine students as the university began moving all face-to-face interactions and classes online via Zoom and Microsoft Teams. “A lot of things were going on and we didn’t even think that we could use Zoom for Match Day,” says Chandran.
The idea to host Match Day on Zoom came from a Stony Brook student just two days before it would take place. Administrators were receptive to the idea but needed to figure out how to capture the energy and excitement from past Match Days. “Across the U.S., students are given an envelope, and there is a 10-second countdown leading up to 12 noon. At zero, everyone opens their envelopes at the same time,” says Chandran. “You can hear shrieks and cries of joy and see students hugging their family and friends. There’s such a powerful energy in the room.”
This year, the administrators of the event, the National Resident Matching Program, sent students an electronic notification at 12 pm. “Instead of opening envelopes, they will be clicking on their phones at the same time,” she says.
To get the word out, school media relations and other communications teams coordinated these efforts with the main campus. Meanwhile, a technical support staff member participated in various training sessions leading up to the online college event. “Our tech support needed to know when each speaker would present to ensure Zoom focused on the right person during the event,” says Chandran.
Unfortunately, Zoom can only show 49 participants in the viewer panel simultaneously, and normally 120-plus students take part in the in-person celebration. “Ideally, we would have liked to have been able to see all of the family members and students at the same time, so it won’t have the same energy, but this was something our students wanted to have,” says Chandran.
That said, some students chose not to participate in the virtual event for various reasons, including not wanting to be on camera in case they weren’t accepted into their first choice. “There might be other technological products out there that would have allowed us to have a virtual celebration involving hundreds of people where everybody could see each other and would feel more real. But, honestly, I am pretty amazed by the capabilities of Zoom and how easy it was to learn,” says Chandran.
For the event, administrators chose not to show all 49 panels simultaneously. After three deans gave a speech, the focus stayed on Raja Pillai, the student who came up with the idea of hosting Match Day on Zoom. But Raja captured the energy and excitement of students by unmuting everyone at once so they could all do the countdown together and hear each other as they read their results. Students who wanted to appear on screen afterwards made a request in the chatroom and then were made a panelist.
“I think we should try to create these memories for our students, especially now that everything is so unsettled,” says Chandran. “This is an unprecedented challenge for educators. But in those challenges lie great opportunities where you can grow from that experience.”