The Harkness ballroom erupted with cheers on March 19, as members of the Class of 2009 rushed in to learn where they had been placed for residencies during the annual ritual known as Match Day. In seconds, the mood in the room shifted from anxiety to relief, as the next chapter in students’ lives—and where they would spend the next few years—became clear.

Before the letters were handed out, Joel Green said he was hoping to match to the internal medicine residency program at Northwestern University’s McGaw Medical Center. “I feel pretty good,” he said.

Larry Lo, who had hoped to match in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said he felt “very, very anxious. Extremely anxious. It’s tough, just because neurosurgery is such a competitive specialty, and a larger program like Hopkins only takes a few residents,” he said.

But like many in their class, both Green and Lo received the news they were hoping for: They’d matched with their first-choice programs.

“I’m excited,” Green said after getting the good news. “It was what I expected.”

“I just told my fiancée that my hands are shivering right now,” said Lo after calling her with the good news.

It was a highly competitive year for medical students not just at Yale, but across the country. The National Resident Matching Program, which uses a computer algorithm to pair medical students and residency programs according to their preferences, reported that 2009 set a new record with 29,890 applicants participating, 1,153 more than last year. The challenge, said Associate Dean for Student Affairs Nancy R. Angoff, MPH ’81, M.D. ’90, HS ’93, is that while medical schools are expanding their enrollments, the number of residency slots isn’t growing.

Popular specialties among Yale students this year included plastic surgery, dermatology, radiation oncology, radiology, and ophthalmology.