Loud cheering echoed through the Harry and Celesta Pappas Quad at 9:01 a.m. March 18 as 163 Keck School of Medicine of USC seniors simultaneously ripped open envelopes that told them where they are spending the next few years of their lives.

The students and their families were celebrating Match Day 2016, when graduating medical students learn where they will be going to complete their residencies. It is a day full of excitement, emotion and even introspection.

Class co-president Kelly Jones, who just a few minutes later found out she had matched with her first choice of Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center, stated in her opening remarks that, “today is so much about looking forward, but we also hope it allows us to appreciate how far we’ve come as we’ve grown into our roles as physicians.”

“I’m so excited, I can’t even tell you,” said Kelly’s mother, Theresa Jones. “We live in Orange County and she’ll be staying close by, so she can drop by and see us whenever she has a free moment.”

The Joneses were all smiles, including her father and cousin, who also joined for the happy day.

This year was the largest Match Day yet, with 18,668 seniors getting matched with residency programs at hospitals nationwide through the National Resident Matching Program. At the Keck School, 163 students were matched. Of those, 123 will complete all or part of their training in California, and 46 will be at LAC+USC for at least part of their residency. For the first time, Texas was the second most-popular state with nine matches, beating out the usual second-place state of New York.

Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA, walked around Pappas Quad after the students opened their envelopes, taking in the excitement of the morning.

“I think the Keck School is an outstanding medical school with a great reputation,” he said, “and it’s reflected in where our students matched, at many of the leading medical centers around the United States.”

Joseph De Sena was surrounded by friends and mentors, celebrating his match at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles for family medicine. He said the morning was overwhelming.

“When I was in line and walking closer to my envelope, I felt the nerves building,” De Sena said. “As soon as I opened it, I instantly broke into tears and I was so happy.”

De Sena praised the faculty and administration at the Keck School for supporting him throughout his student career.

“Since Day 1, (Assistant Dean for Student Diversity Althea Alexander) has been a second mother to me, any questions I had or anything I needed, she was there for me,” he said. “I also did a pediatric surgery rotation at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and worked with (Vice Dean for Medical Education Henri Ford, MD, MHA), who is an amazing mentor.”

Nicole Coppage isn’t resting on her laurels after finding out about her first-choice match at the University of Washington. “My next step is to pack up and move to Atlanta for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 6 weeks,” Coppage said, barely able to contain her excitement. “I will be working on a research project dealing with low income population’s access to healthy food and its impact on obesity. Then I come back to California, graduate, and move to Seattle.”

Deep Chandegara is relocating too, but much closer to home. His match, in anesthesiology at LAC+USC, makes him very happy. “I could not imagine myself at a better place. Now, I have to find an apartment in downtown Los Angeles!” he said with a big grin. “But first, I’m going to celebrate. I am one of the class social chairs and we are going to have a celebration tonight.”

For more photos, go to Match Day 2016 photo gallery.

— Amanda Busick