Tim Wallace stopped on the stage, peeked into the envelope in his hands, and then slowly pulled off his green shirt to reveal a black shirt that read, "Arkansas."
"I'm just a cocky guy," he joked, after getting his first choice of residency program for anesthesia, a selection that was not revealed to him until he got his envelope during the Match Day ceremony at Medical College of Georgia.
Across the country beginning at noon, graduating medical students are told to which residency program they "matched" and where they will spend the next three to seven years learning their specialties. The students had visited and previously ranked residency programs. A computer at the National Resident Matching Program pairs up that list with a preferred list from the programs to try and give students their highest choice.
At MCG, Match Day is a raucous party held in a large auditorium as students are called up one by one to the stage to get the envelope and learn their fate, with each name answered by ear-splitting screams and shouts of encouragement.
This year's match was the largest ever with 29,890 applicants, including 15,638 from U.S. medical schools, 400 more than last year, according to the National Resident Matching Program.
"I attribute it to medical school expansion, expansion in the class sizes of existing medical schools and of course new medical schools are being developed," said Executive Director Mona Signer, which includes efforts at MCG.
Careers can ride on the contents of each envelope and students found different ways to handle the pressure. Kamal Aderibigbe looked at his letter, let out a huge yell, and fell to his knees in the middle of the stage, before leaping to his feet, jumping off stage and sprinting up the aisle. He got his first choice, the orthopedic surgery program at the University of Minnesota, in spite of the fact that orthopedic surgery was one of the most competitive fields in this year's match.
Ruthanne Dahlheimer pulled off a cartwheel before mounting the stage to grab her envelope and find out she is going to Anderson Area Medical Center in Seneca Lakes-Anderson, S.C., to do family medicine, her top choice.
"I was kind of concerned," she said afterward. "I'm shaking."
Her selection will help with her goal of becoming a primary care provider in a rural area.
Fighting the urge to find out her fate, Amy Blackburn waited about 20 minutes to open her envelope so that she and friends Antonio Luis and Shelle Rae Schwamberger could all find out together.
"We're best friends that way," Mr. Luis said.
Ms. Schwamberger is also going into family medicine, bucking a trend that saw the number of family medicine residency positions declining this year by 101.
"I like being able to treat the whole family," she said. "You can treat the entire community."
Family medicine residency programs had increased last year and there was hope that might be the beginning of a trend, which turned out not to be true, Ms. Signer said. Family medicine lends itself more to the future of medicine and the concept of a "medical home" for patients and families to receive care, she said.
Residency programs are also important in determining where a doctor might call home.
Justin Dunn's letter was handed to 6-month-old Tripp, who managed to hang onto it as his father carried him all the way back to their seats. It revealed that Mr. Dunn will be spending the next five years in the orthopedic surgery program at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine-Chattanooga.
"Where he's going to grow up," he said, looking down at Tripp, still clutching the letter.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.