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Called to serve

William Johnson was inspired to become a doctor after a tour of duty in Iraq with the Marine Corps. He's now a medical student at the University and a medical officer in the Minnesota Air National Guard. (Photo courtesy of William Johnson)

Former Marine becomes Medical School’s first student to serve on Match Day board

William Johnson thought he’d serve in the Marines his entire life. Then, while he was on duty in Iraq, one of his troops was critically wounded. “I watched the medical team save his life and save his limbs,” says Johnson. “It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.”

Thus inspired to enter medicine, Johnson took pre-med courses, completed his U.S. Marine Corps career in 2010, and entered the University of Minnesota Medical School later that year.

Today, the third-year medical student is in a rare position to aid his classmates as one of only three student representatives — and the first ever from the Medical School — to the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) board of directors. Each year, the NRMP conducts a main residency match and more than 20 fellowship matches that are designed to optimize the rank-ordered choices of applicants and program directors.

Johnson’s selection to the board is a “tribute to his academic and professional excellence,” says Kathleen Watson, M.D., the Medical School’s associate dean for students and student learning.

Johnson is serving on the executive board of directors, attending meetings up to three times a year, participating in monthly conference calls, and spending much of his time on the finance and audit committee, dealing with system upgrades as well as “run-of-the-mill finances.” (His bachelor’s degree in economics has come in handy.)

“As a medical student, you don’t realize how important the matching program is,” says Johnson, who points out that the NRMP, about to turn 60, matches more than 35,000 medical students to residencies every year. “It’s amazing how accurate this system is,” he says.

One of the NRMP’s goals is to use social media to get more information to medical students. “Students are unfamiliar with how the match works, the algorithms, the different tactics to number[ing] selections,” Johnson says.

His advice, now that he’s in the know: “List the programs in the order that you would like them to go. There is no penalty for reaching for the stars.”

By Karin Miller, a freelance writer from Minneapolis.

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