March 20, 2017 1:00 PM

On Residency Match Day, Emotions Run High

Each March, thousands of medical students across the country discover their next career step. A U-M scholar explains how he got to his.


When it was his turn to announce his residency program on stage, Jesse Burk-Rafel took a few extra moments to congratulate his fellow classmates.

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“It’s been incredible training with all of you,” he said. “I am blown away by the talent of our class, and I’m honored to be here.”

On Friday, Burk-Rafel and the rest of the University of Michigan Medical School class of 2017 underwent one of medicine’s more cherished initiations: match day. Hundreds filed in U-M’s North Campus Research Center Dining Hall to learn the residency locations of the next cohort of Michigan Medical School graduates.

“I’m Jesse, and I’ll be doing my residency in internal medicine at NYU,” Burk-Rafel announced.

The audience broke into a loud round of applause for Burk-Rafel, who is also this year’s student commencement speaker. His speech will follow an address from former University of Michigan Medical School faculty member and current director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

“I’m humbled and blown away,” Burk-Rafel said, just after learning he’d been selected by his classmates to speak at graduation. “I’m excited but also nervous.”

Jesse Burk-Rafel at the Michigan Medicine Match Day event.
Jesse Burk-Rafel celebrating his match at the Michigan Medicine Match Day event on March 17.

The journey to medical school

Burk-Rafel’s medical school journey has come full circle but began well before he arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a biomedical engineering student at the University of Washington, he participated in an NIH-sponsored clinical research experience for engineers, designing a cancer-targeted magnetic nanoparticle for early detection of tumors.   

After graduating in 2010, he spent a year as a Henry Luce Scholar, studying at a public health institute in Mongolia. He spent the year after that in London as a Whitaker Fellow, creating diagnostics that detected mad cow disease.

“Med school was always the goal, but a few other scholarship-based opportunities presented themselves before I applied,” he said.

His interest in problem-solving drove his undergraduate pursuits, but an event more personal cemented the idea that he should become a doctor.

SEE ALSO: Match Day Explained: How Med Students Take the Next Step

“My mom passed away from cancer on my first day of undergrad,” he said. “It had been a long battle for her, and it was definitely one of my key motivators to attend medical school.” 

“I saw firsthand how phenomenal physicians were, along with nurses and whole health care teams. But, I also saw the gaps. I also saw that there were things within the health care system that needed to be improved upon.”

After years of hard work and months of nerve-wracking residency interviews, Burk-Rafel will be looking to fill in those gaps at NYU Langone Medical Center. His classmates will do the same at their respective institutions.

“The places we’ll be continuing our training: the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Boston Children’s Hospital. It’s not surprising, but it’s amazing,” he says.

Nearly 99 percent of Burk-Rafel’s classmates matched to a residency program, which is above the national average of 94 percent.

As Burk-Rafel heads to the Big Apple, he knows it will be an adjustment. But he’s excited about the opportunities the future holds for him and his wife.

“I know it’s going to be amazing,” he said. “And I feel good.”