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Making matches at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

February 10, 2017

Katie and Russell Trigonis wedding
Katie and Russell Trigonis on their wedding day, May 15, 2016. Photo by Su Nguyen with Good Company Photography.

Katie and Russell Trigonis met in August 2012, along with their 40 other classmates, during the flurry of orientation and social events to welcome the Class of 2016 to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

They didn’t know at the time they would end up being one of five couples that met and paired off in their small class.

As luck would have it, they ended up being in the same problem-based learning group at the start of the school year. The team of seven students spent a lot of time together during the first eight weeks of school.

“That was how our friendship developed,” Katie said.

Shortly after, the pair started dating and were engaged by the start of their fourth year, just in time for the residency application and match process.

“We knew there were a lot of great programs out there but we wanted to prioritize being together in a program versus any individual program on its own,” Russell said.

They also wanted to be close to their families, so they narrowed their focus to programs in the Southeast.

“The way we submitted our list, if we matched into any of our selections, it was a place where we would be together,” Russell said. “The Monday before Match Day we learned that we had both matched, so we knew we were going somewhere together. That was a big kicker to get that out of the way. Waiting for Friday was just to see where we were going to be.”

2016 Match Day
Russell Trigonis puts a pin in the map on Charlotte, North Carolina, during the Class of 2016's Match Day celebration. Charlotte is where he and his wife, Katie, are doing their residency programs.

When the moment arrived on Match Day, Russell let Katie open her envelope first – knowing his would say the same thing.

“It was both of our number one choice. We were ecstatic,” Katie added.

They graduated on May 7 and got married the next weekend. Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Associate Dean for Student Affairs Aubrey Knight officiated their ceremony. The following week, they moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, for their residencies at Carolinas Medical Center – Katie for family medicine and Russell for emergency medicine.

Katie and Russell Trigonis with Aubrey Knight
Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Associate Dean for Student Affairs Aubrey Knight (center) officiated the wedding ceremony for graduates Katie and Russell Trigonis. Photo by Su Nguyen with Good Company Photography.

Matchmaker

With three graduating classes and a fourth set to finish in May, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine has earned a reputation as a competitive medical school that has matched its graduates into top residency programs across the country. It is also, however, gaining an internal reputation as a relationship matchmaker.

From the three graduating classes so far, the school has had nine couples meet at the school and go through the residency match process together – five of those couples were from last year’s class. Out of the class of 42 students, almost a quarter of the class paired off.

“I’m proud of the fact that so many couples resulted from our class. It’s crazy to think given our small class size,” said Katie. “I think that highlights how great of a place VTC was. Some sort of magic happens in the recruitment room when they are trying to determine the class because our class had such a strong bond.”

This year, the Class of 2017 has three couples going through the residency match process together.

Next year, six members of the Class of 2018 are expected to try to be placed into residency programs near their significant others, who are graduates from the Classes of 2015, 2016, and 2017.

“For curricular reasons, our school intentionally has a small class size that uses problem-based learning in small groups. We look for students who thrive in teams, and because of that, they get to know each other really well,” said Cynda Ann Johnson, founding dean of the medical school. “The unexpected, but welcome, result has been that a large percentage of our students have found their partner for life right here.”

Anna and Brett Melnikoff

Anna and Brett Melnikoff wedding
Anna and Brett Melnikoff on their wedding day, May 29, 2016. Photo by Katherine Birkbeck of Katherine Birkbeck Photography.

Anna and Brett Melnikoff met just before the start of school for the Class of 2016 after finding out they lived in the same apartment complex. After the first day of orientation, they decided to decompress from the busy day with some wine and bonded over their similar families and backgrounds.

“Then we saw each other the next day and the following day, Brett said, ‘Well, I think we should date,’” Anna said.

The couple got engaged in February of their third year at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital – a proposal fit for aspiring doctors.

Like Katie and Russell, they went through the match process together, prioritizing that they wanted to be placed in the same location.

“The big thing for us initially was deciding if we were willing to live separately. We knew we were getting married, and we were not willing to live apart,” Anna said. “That’s a big choice for couples – if they are willing to live separately for a couple of years.”

“On Match Day, your stomach is in knots. You are nervous and really excited,” said Brett.

When they received their envelope, the couple stepped out of the room where their classmates and families were to open their envelopes alone.

“Brett got his envelope open a split second before me and I will never forget the look on his face when he looked up at me and I knew we were going to UAB,” Anna said.

Anna and Brett Melnikoff on Match Day
Anna and Brett Melnikoff rush into the auditorium to share the news with family and friends on Match Day 2016. Photo provided by Anna.

Anna and Brett ranked the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine as their top choice programs, in obstetrics and gynecology and general surgery respectively.

“We graduated on May 7. We got married on May 29. We honeymooned real quick and then our residency orientation program started on June 24,” Anna said. “The day we got back from our honeymoon and before residency started, we closed on a house. Short of having a baby, we did everything else at once,” Brett said.

Carlie Blake and Dan Plessl

Match Day 2015
Dan Plessl and Carlie Blake do an interview with the media on their Match Day in 2015.

Carlie Blake and Dan Plessl met the first week of school for the Class of 2015 and bonded along with their other classmates. But by the end of spring their first year, it was clear they were more than friends.

When the residency match process came around, they decided to do it together.

“As with most big decisions, couples matching can be very stressful. We had some extra stress with Dan applying to orthopedics, which is a very competitive specialty,” Carlie said.

Because of that limitation, Carlie and Dan ranked some program combinations that would mean they would have to live apart.

“We had over 400 combinations of residencies ranging across most of the eastern United States. We could have ended up on opposite sides of the country,” Carlie said.

“On Monday before Match Day, we each found out that we had matched at programs, but had no idea whether we would be together,” Dan said.

When Match Day arrived, both were on edge, hoping to end up in good programs – ideally, together.

“I was so nervous I wasn’t able to find the name of the program on my match sheet. I heard Dan exclaim that we were going to New Orleans,” Carlie said. “It was sheer relief to both be in the same location and at programs we were both very excited about.”

Match Day 2015
Carlie Blake and Dan Plessl get a high-five from a classmate on their Match Day in 2015. Photo by David Hungate.

Carlie is in family medicine at East Jefferson General Hospital and Dan is in orthopaedics at Louisiana State University School of Medicine. They are set to marry April 8.

Beth and Matt Yanoff

2017 SOM Winter Formal
Beth and Matt Yanoff at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine's 2017 Formal.

Beth and Matt Yanoff are one of the three couples who will go through the match together this year. Like the Trigonis, they met as school began and were placed in the same problem-based learning group at the start of the year.

“We quickly realized we had similar interests, like cooking and going to the gym,” Matt said.

They became an official pair after attending a Virginia Tech football game together. Matt served in the United States Navy as a submarine operator for eight years prior to medical school.

“Virginia Tech President Tim Sands had invited a group of student veterans to attend the game in the President’s Box. I was really impressed. It was really hot outside, and we got to enjoy the game in the cool, air-conditioned box with university leadership,” Beth said.

In February 2016, the couple got engaged; this past December, they tied the knot in Roanoke.

Beth and Matt Yanoff wedding
Beth and Matt Yanoff on their wedding day in Roanoke, Virginia, on Dec. 30, 2016. Photo by Kemper Fant of Kemper Mills Fant Photography.

They are now in the midst of the residency match process – Beth for family medicine and Matt for general surgery – and will find out their next destination on Match Day in March. But they aren’t too worried.

“I’m really just excited. I don’t feel anxiety because I found a specialty that is a perfect fit and we have each other,” Beth said.

“Although we will find out where we are going on March 17, I think we’ve already found the perfect match,” Matt added.

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