Every year on the first day of school, David Romo would tell his daughter Ashley, “Go get your future.” Today after she ripped open her envelope at Match Day, Ashley Romo hugged her father as tears leaked out of her eyes and she whispered, “Dad, I got my future.”

Along with 238 other students who filled Webber Plaza behind McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), Romo discovered where she will take the next step in her journey to become a physician.

During Match Day, at the same time across the country through the National Resident Matching Program, medical students learned where they will train as residents in U.S. programs.

 “You’ve spent the last four years preparing for today,” said Barbara J. Stoll, MD, the H. Wayne Hightower Distinguished Professor in the Medical Sciences and dean of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “You’re ready to take on the rigors of residency training. But although you can take a patient history and understand the most complicated medical jargon, remember that most of your medical education is in front of you – an education that will continue your entire career.”

Of the 239 graduating seniors from McGovern Medical School who participated in the National Resident Matching Program, 130 (54 percent) will stay in Texas for their first year of postgraduate training and 51 (21 percent) matched to McGovern Medical School programs. In primary care fields, where there is an acute need of physicians, 96 members (40 percent) matched.

Here are some of the faces of McGovern Medical School’s Class of 2019:

Couple Ashley Romo and Omare Okotie-Eboh, who will marry in a few weeks, matched to primary care residencies, filling a critical need across the country.
Couple Ashley Romo and Omare Okotie-Eboh, who will marry in a few weeks, matched to primary care residencies, filling a critical need across the country. Photo by Deborah Mann Lake/UTHealth

Ashley Romo and Omare Okotie-Eboh, both 25, opened their envelopes at the exact same time before breaking into huge smiles as Okotie-Eboh lifted Romo off her feet in a hug. The couple, who will marry next month, will stay in Houston – Romo matched to Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital in family medicine while Okotie-Eboh matched to McGovern Medical School in internal medicine/pediatrics. They decided to learn together their residency programs in the same exact spot in Webber Plaza where he proposed to her. “I’m overcome with joy and gratitude,” said Romo, who is from Dallas. “This feels unreal.” Okotie-Eboh, who graduated from Cy-Fair High School and Rice University, said, “This is exactly what we prayed for. My family is here and we have deep roots here with our church and friends.” The couple met during their first year at McGovern Medical School and quickly became friends who leaned on each other for support as they overcame the challenges that come with being a medical student. Their faith, love of service to others, and love of baking brought them closer, and they began dating in their second year of medical school. A medical mission trip that Romo and Okotie-Eboh took together to Roatan, an island off the northern coast of Honduras, further highlighted common goals they share. Both want to practice medicine in the U.S., but they also have a calling to care for those in underserved areas of the world. Ultimately, they say, they would like to serve patients in a U.S. clinical practice that would allow them time to travel periodically to other countries on medical missions. “It is a great joy to provide care to those in need, and it inspires me to be the best doctor that I can be,” Okotie-Eboh said. He was welcomed to his new residency by Mark A. Farnie, MD, who ceremoniously draped him with an orange lei.

McGovern Medical School student Ana Solis Zavala celebrates matching to her pediatric residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
McGovern Medical School student Ana Solis Zavala celebrates matching to her pediatric residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Photo by Rob Cahill/UTHealth

Ana Solis Zavala, 26, whose life was saved by doctors after she developed sepsis as an infant, was thrilled to learn that she matched to St. Louis Children’s Hospital for her pediatric residency. “I was impressed with everyone I met when I interviewed there,” she said. No one has to tell her why the work of doctors is so important. Shortly after her birth in Mexico City, she developed a life-threatening infection called sepsis. She’s alive today because of the care she received. “Growing up, I recall my parents singing the praises of the pediatrician who cared for me. That’s one of the reasons I want to be a doctor,” said Solis Zavala, who moved to the Houston area when she was 11 years old. Like the doctor who saved her, Solis Zavala wants to care for children. “I have a younger sister and I helped my mother take care of her,” Solis Zavala said. “I’ve always loved working with children.” When she’s not studying for medical school, she volunteers to hold tiny newborns in an intensive care unit and to support children whose parents have cancer. Through McGovern Medical School, she served at a summer camp for children with kidney disease alongside Joshua Samuels, MD, MPH, and conducted genetic research with Hope Northrup, MD. Solis Zavala graduated from The Woodlands High School and earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. “Taking care of children is what I want to do,” Solis Zavala said.

Waheguru Singh says he’s proud of his son, McGovern Medical School student Mani Singh for matching to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he’ll study physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Waheguru Singh says he’s proud of his son, McGovern Medical School student Mani Singh for matching to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he’ll study physical medicine and rehabilitation. Photo by Faith Harper/UTHealth

Mani Singh, 26, wasn’t nervous until names started getting called. Then, his right leg started to bounce. In the end, the waiting and the four years of hard work paid off. Singh matched to his first choice for residency – New York Presbyterian Hospital – where he will study physical medicine and rehabilitation. Singh will spend one more year at McGovern Medical School to train in internal medicine before moving to New York to complete his specialty training. Singh said he looks up to his father, a self-made man who came to the U.S. with ambition and smarts, but little money. Singh said he hoped his father and mother were proud. His father, Waheguru Singh, said his dream was to become a medical doctor, but he instead focused on chemistry and has had a long career working in a research lab. He said the pride of seeing his son match to a residency program made him feel like his own dream was fulfilled. Mani Singh will train in a specialization that helps patients with physical limitations regain their functionality and independence. “The specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation focuses on patient wellness rather than just the medicine,” he said. “It includes physical health and mental health. These patients may have gone through a big change and they are trying to reclaim their normalcy. Working with those patients stuck with me. It combines everything I like.” Specifically, Singh plans to enter physiatry, a field of medicine that focuses on whole-body treatment of patients with mobility-affecting diseases. He fell in love with the specialty through volunteer work at Rehabilitation Services Volunteer Project, where Singh said he gained a better understanding of the challenges some patients face after leaving the hospital. The nonprofit provides physical rehabilitation services and equipment to disabled people without insurance. Singh is also skilled in the research lab, and hopes to uncover mysteries related to spinal cord injuries. “Research keeps you honest,” Singh said. “You have to stay up to date with new techniques and evidence, and you don’t forget the knowledge base as you progress in your medical career. It’s a long game, and even the small findings you have are satisfying.” He started his academic career as a biochemistry major at the University of Texas at Austin. Singh grew up in College Station, Texas, where he graduated from A&M Consolidated High School.

McGovern Medical School senior Logan Oliver receives his marching orders to start an internal medicine residency at the Naval Medical Center San Diego.
McGovern Medical School senior Logan Oliver receives his marching orders to start an internal medicine residency at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. Photo by Victoria Tagg/UTHealth

McGovern Medical School senior/U.S. Navy Ensign Logan Oliver, 26, had already received his marching orders and starts his internal medicine residency in June at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. Although the contents were less of a surprise, Oliver was still thrilled to open his envelope and celebrate with friends. “It’s really satisfying to know all the hard work paid off and to celebrate with classmates. I’m relieved and excited, knowing that graduation is around the corner,” Oliver said. “It feels more real now. We’re going to be physicians really soon and with that comes a lot of responsibility. I hope I’m ready!” Unlike their civilian counterparts, students pursuing careers in military medicine get their assignments months ahead of time. As a member of the Navy Medical Corps, Oliver’s job is to make sure sailors, Marines, and their families and retirees are healthy, ready, and on the job – be it land or sea. “My dad showed me the value of service to country and community. I think this is a great outlet to give back to the community,” said Oliver, whose dad Larry Oliver graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served as an Army captain. Not the only doctor in the family, Oliver’s sister Rachel Oliver has already earned her medical degree and is doing an emergency medicine residency in Tampa, Florida. Once the general part of his residency is complete, Logan Oliver plans to specialize in gastroenterology. “A lot of people have gastrointestinal issues. This is an area where I can make a big difference to a lot of people,” he said. Oliver graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas, and earned a chemistry degree at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. While Oliver admired and appreciated all his mentors, he was particularly affected by the attitude of Amanda Helminiak, MD. “Dr. Helminiak makes each of her patients feel heard, respected, and well-cared-for, which is a skill I hope to emulate as a future physician,” he said.

Cindy Gu, who matched early to the urology program at UCLA, celebrates her friend, Sarah Namil, who matched to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Cindy Gu, who matched early to the urology program at UCLA, celebrates her friend, Sarah Namil, who matched to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Photo by Amy Laukka/UTHealth

Cindy Gu, 26, chose a field, urology, which matches residencies early. She is heading to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “People have asked me why I came to Match Day since I already knew I matched to UCLA, but I am so glad I’m here to experience this incredible moment,” she said. “I wanted to be there for my classmates and friends, who have gone through the last four years with me, and I’m so happy they matched to their top schools. It feels like all of our hard work has paid off!” Gu was inspired to go into medicine after watching her beloved grandmother, who helped raise her, battle pancreatic cancer. Gu was born in China and lived with her grandmother while her parents worked in the U.S. When she was about 3 years old, the two went to live with Gu’s parents in Texas. Her grandmother sadly lost her battle with cancer during Gu’s senior year of high school. “Just seeing what all she went through and her experience with the health care system inspired me to get involved and help people,” Gu said. “I love that you can see patients, both in a clinical and surgical setting, and also do research,” said Gu, whose father is a research scientist. “You can see how your research is going to impact your patients’ lives and many times even directly apply it during treatment or surgery. I also find it exciting that through research, you can offer hope to patients who feel that they have run out of options.” Gu says her grandparents also motivated her to specialize in urology, as many of the common issues in the field affect older people. “I saw that issues like urinary incontinence and benign prostatic hyperplasia, or an enlarged prostate, can be embarrassing and cause shame,” Gu said. “I love that by providing treatment, you can vastly improve quality of life for so many people.” Gu said there are many doctors she admires, including Steven Canfield, MD, urologist with McGovern Medical School and UT Physicians. “Cindy is very smart and we’re sad to lose her, but we know she has a wonderful journey and bright career ahead,” Canfield said. Before heading off to UCLA, Gu will marry her boyfriend of nine years in May.

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McGovern Medical School Match Day 2019
2019 Graduating Class Specialty Choices
Internal medicine 34
Pediatrics 26
Emergency Medicine 18
Family Medicine 18
Anesthesiology 15
Psychiatry 15
Orthopaedic Surgery 14
Ophthalmology 12
Surgery (General) 12
Obstetrics/Gynecology 12
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation 8
Diagnostic Radiology 6
Surgery (Preliminary) 6
Deferred 4
Otolaryngology 4
Urology 4
Dermatology 4
Internal Medicine (Preliminary) 4
Neurology 3
Neurological Surgery 3
Oral Maxillofacial Surgery 3
Pediatric Neurology 2
Internal Medicine / Pediatrics 2
Interventional Radiology 2
Pathology 2
Plastic Surgery 2
Vascular Surgery 2
Radiation Oncology 1
Thoracic Surgery 1
Total Number of Students: 239