Match Day: Reflecting Back while Looking Forward

Kayla Johnson on Match Day: Reflecting Back while Looking Forward

As graduating medical student Kayla Johnson prepares for Match Day, she takes a look back at those who have helped her along the way.

On Friday, March 20, Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) fourth-year medical students will each open an email, and in doing so will open the door to the next chapter of their medical careers. Every year on the third Friday of March, the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) releases residency placement results at 12:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time to graduating medical students across the country. Match Day celebrations typically include a public gathering of family and friends to watch as students open an envelope to reveal their Match results, but this year’s celebration will look a bit different amid COVID-19 public health concerns and social distancing. Still, Kayla Johnson of Milwaukee is not going to let the lack of a Match Day ceremony get in the way of celebrating with people who have encouraged her along her journey.

“I am very family oriented and aware of the vital role my community has played in getting me here,” she says. “I would not be graduating if it were not for the wide network of people I had encouraging me.”

Johnson’s mother was the first person to suggest she should consider medicine as a career after noticing her aptitude in math and science by the time she was about 10 years old.

“I decided to stick with it and attended a school known for its pre-med program and for African American students going on to medical school,” Johnson explains. During the summer after her freshman year of college, she attended MCW’s Diversity Summer Health-Related Research Education Program (DSHREP), where she met more people who would inspire her to pursue medical school.

“DSHREP helped me picture myself as a doctor,” Johnson says. “It was a surreal experience walking the halls of MCW and interacting with medical students who looked like me. From a representation standpoint, it made me feel like medical school was an achievable goal. I felt like I could be here, too.”

When Johnson was accepted to MCW as a medical student – which she describes as “a dream come true” – she sought mentors from the MCW faculty and also pursued opportunities to mentor others. She notes physicians she admires, like mentor Camille Garrison, MD, MCW assistant professor and family medicine physician at Columbia-St. Mary’s Family Health Center.

“Dr. Garrison is a model for how I want to be with my patients. The relationships she has and the way she cares about her patients and speaks with them are practices I want to take with me,” Johnson says.

In 2016, Johnson paid mentorship forward and served as a program mentor for MCW’s Apprenticeship in Medicine (AIM) program, which offers opportunities for high school students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to explore careers in medicine, biomedical research and allied health.

“I helped create the summer curriculum and coordinated physicians and special guests to be a support for the students in AIM. The kids I met were bright and motivated, and I felt inspired by them to become the best physician and example possible,” she reflects.

Kayla Johnson studies in medical schoolPart of becoming the best physician possible also meant pursuing her interest in public health.

“I am concerned about health equity and advocacy as it relates to the trajectory of health outcomes for marginalized communities of color,” Johnson says. “I knew I needed more formalized training. I decided to pursue my Master of Public Health degree to learn what I could do outside of a clinic to help address health disparities.” Inspired by a peer who graduated a year ahead of her, Johnson applied to Harvard’s program and was accepted for the 2018-2019 school year.

“I learned a lot about policy and how we as physicians can have influence,” she says. “I also learned more about the programs I hope to create for patients someday. Leading evidence-based programs leveraging the power of peer-support frameworks to manage chronic disease or prenatal care is something I am very interested in.”

The next step toward her goal is the Match. Countless hours of studying, attending clinical rotations, applying to residency programs and hitting the interview trail have all led to one moment when Johnson learns where she is headed next.

“I have a couple of programs where I would be very excited to match,” she says. “I was looking for a program where I could gain exposure to health equity research, program implementation and intentional patient care for underfunded populations. In my future, I want to work in academia as a family medicine doctor, splitting my time between public health initiatives and clinic work. On Match Day, I hope to see I was selected for one of the programs that offers those opportunities.”

But before heading toward her future, Johnson said she plans to celebrate her Match results by reflecting back on and celebrating with the community who have helped her get this far.

“I have been waiting to celebrate this momentous occasion all my life,” she says. “I do not know exactly how yet, but it is a priority for me to celebrate with those who have supported me along the way.”

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