We’ve heard of March Madness in college basketball. But Friday could be called Match Madness for nearly 150 Upstate Medical University students who opened envelopes containing their residency assignments. That’s where they will spend their first year of training as doctors.
The rite of passage is a very emotional moment for students, marking the culmination of years of intense study and little sleep. Cries and tears of joy were quickly followed by hugs with fellow students and family members. Dean of Upstate’s College of Medicine Doctor Julio Licinio says it’s the beginning of their professional lives.
"Up until now, they have been protected students. Now, they're hired by the hospitals as doctors. When sick people come, they are the person in charge on the front lines. It's big change."
Gabrielle Ritaccio is originally from Albany, and says she’s elated to be going into internal medicine at the University of Maryland, her first choice. She and her fellow doctors will be joining the medical profession at a somewhat uncertain time in the health care industry. Ritaccio acknowledges there will always be advances, and varying degrees of public interest.
"The most important relationship in medicine is the relationship between physician and patient. So, as long as we, especially here at Upstate create good docs, then it doesn't really matter what the landscape is because we're going to keep working hard for our patients."
Nearly two dozen of the new doctors will be staying in Syracuse. Dean Licinio says one of their missions is to train doctors in the region.
"If people train in California, the likelihood that they return is very low. So, if we get people here for medical school and then for residency, I think the likelihood that they stay in the region is very high."
SYRACUSE IS HER CALLING
Rebekah Steinkey is originally from Lima, south of Rochester, and will spend her residency in family medicine at St. Joseph’s hospital.
"My original intention was to leave New York State and train somewhere else. But over time, I started to see that Syracuse was the place I truly wanted to be. I actually right next to St. Joe's on Hawley Ave. And, living with and seeing my neighbors, and being able to walk through life with them, totally transformed the way I thought. So, I took St. Joes' from near the bottom of my list and put it on the top."
Steinkey says she started her medical school journey in rural medicine, saw a the great need, and enjoyed it. But after living in Syracuse, she says her outlook changed.
"I did a couple of rotations here with the homeless. I also worked with the HIV population in the city. Then, I met some amazing pastors working with local churches doing outreach in the inner city just to be there with people and walk through life with them. That's what transformed me. I started seeing that it's not being a doctor, per se. It's about being a friend, It's about being someone they can rely on. That's really family medicine."
Steinkey says she wants to become part of the fabric of Syracuse, and serve residents by caring for them as a family physician. But she says there was a time when she thought this day might not come. Last June, Steinkey says she had reached the end of her rope.
"I really had come to a place where I said 'I don't know if I want to do this' because I was so discouraged, mostly because I didn't feel I belonged. I was praying about it, and that's when God put Syracuse in my heart. I started seeing where I belonged, and once I clicked in and said this is my home, everything got better. I realized I can endure anything anything I see in medicine, any of the struggles and the pain, if it's for a greater purpose."
Steinkey is one of six who will be residents at St Joe's. Seventeen will stay at Upstate University Hospital. Sixty-six others will remain in New York state.