Years of training and studying all led to a tense but joyous moment Friday morning for nearly 180 future doctors in the graduating class of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Match Day was finally here.

As the clock hit 9 a.m. — at the same time as thousands of their peers across the country — UCLA medical students began tearing into acceptance envelopes, eager to learn where they will spend the next three to seven years in residency or advanced training programs. Shouts of excitement erupted throughout Irma and Norman Switzer Plaza as the aspiring physicians shared their news with the friends, family members and UCLA faculty who had gathered to celebrate the culmination of a demanding program, made all the more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You’ve spent most of your medical school training facing the additional challenges of a global pandemic,” said Dr. Steven Dubinett, interim dean of the Geffen School of Medicine. “I want to acknowledge your resilience and thank you for your compassion, collaboration and flexibility that helped unite the school around our shared mission and values during your four-plus years here.”

For some Bruins, the next step in their professional journeys will be far from Los Angeles, but one step closer to realizing the dream of serving their communities.

Irrawaddy Lamouth, whose parents fled the Cambodian genocide and resettled in Long Beach, is headed to a residency in psychiatry at University of Washington. Having conducted mental health research in Cambodia during medical school, she hopes to ultimately help Cambodian communities in Southern California and abroad address their unique mental health needs, including by improving the community’s perceptions of mental health treatment.

“Within the Cambodian community, psychiatry is still pretty stigmatized,” she said. “There’s a lot of education that needs to be done while being able to address cultural nuances within the community that a lot of Western psychiatrists may not realize.”

Michael Minh Le, whose father escaped war in Vietnam before settling in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, matched at Mount Sinai in New York, where he will begin an anesthesiology residency. Michael worked with underserved communities around Southern California during medical school; he said his interest in anesthesiology is driven by a desire to make surgery less daunting for immigrant and underserved communities.

“Anesthesiology is a specialty that forces you to make immediate, intimate connections with people on arguably one of the scariest days of their life,” he said. “It often reminds me of the leap of faith my father had to take when he left Vietnam.”  

Makana Williams, who is staying at UCLA for a residency, said her decision to pursue dermatology as a specialty was partly inspired by the field’s growing efforts to provide better care for patients of all skin types.

“As a woman of color, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to help diversify the dermatology workforce,” she said. Williams hopes to serve as a clinician-educator after her residency, so she can mentor future physicians.

Among UCLA’s 2023 medical school graduates, 36% are pursuing primary care and about 30% will train to become surgeons. About two-thirds will remain in the West, with 22% of the class continuing their training at UCLA.