College of Medicine Class of 2024 Gathers on Gray Day for Colorful Match Day Celebration

By Linda Satter

Inside a second-story ballroom in Robinson Center, where the Broadway Bridge over the Arkansas River loomed large through glass walls, tension began filling the air at about 10:30 a.m., as seniors, sitting among family and friends, awaited the arrival of 11 a.m.

That’s when the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) would release results showing which of  44,853 budding medical doctors, doctors of osteopathic medicine and graduates of foreign medical schools had matched to just 38,494 available residencies in the United States. The NRMP uses an algorithm to match the ranked lists of seniors and institutions, following weeks of applications and interviews.

The 157 UAMS seniors who took part in the NMRP represented the majority of UAMS’ 168 seniors, all of whom will continue their next three to seven years of medical training after they graduate in May with their medical degrees. The 11 who didn’t go through the NRMP program had already matched through programs for the military, urology and ophthalmology.

Although the NRMP seniors learned earlier in the week whether they matched to a residency, they had to wait until Match Day to know which of their choices was selected.  The few UAMS seniors who didn’t match through the NRMP or other programs were paired over the following days with other open positions, ensuring all have a place to go.

Seniors everywhere were able to peek at a mass email the NRMP sent out at the golden hour, but most at UAMS heeded the advice of Sharanda Williams, assistant dean of student affairs, who suggested that they wait to open sealed envelopes containing their matches until they walked across the stage. As they did, stopping at a microphone to briefly announce where they matched, they were met by hoots and hollers from family, friends and classmates.

“To our families, thank you for believing in us and also helping us believe in ourselves,” class president Tamanna Basri told the crowd shortly before College of Medicine officials led a verbal countdown of the final seconds until 11 a.m.

Tamanna Basri, Class of 2024 president, thanks professors and parents on behalf of the class.

Tamanna Basri, Class of 2024 president, thanks professors and parents on behalf of the class.Evan Lewis

Before the countdown, representatives of corporate sponsors Baptist Health, Arvest Bank, Re/Max and Simmons Bank addressed the seniors, as did UAMS leaders, including Steven Webber, M.D., who became the new College of Medicine dean only two weeks earlier.

Altogether, 79 UAMS seniors will remain in Arkansas for their residencies, while 89 will attend programs in 26 other states.

Additionally, 48% of the Class of 2024 matched into primary care residencies, which include internal medicine, family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics and Med-Peds, which consists of two years in internal medicine and two years in pediatrics. Last year, 50% of the Class of 2023 matched to primary care residencies.

Phillip Wallace, a senior recruiter at Baptist Health, which has several partnerships with UAMS, reminded the seniors that a national physician shortage, which was underway when they started medical school in 2020, “has not abated.”

Citing the ongoing need, he thanked them for their perseverance despite having to pivot during their first year of medical school to mostly virtual classes for about two years, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You are going to go on and do great things,” Webber told the class. “We wish you the very best as your medical school days wind down.”


One member of the Class of 2024, Spencer Parnell, was the first to graduate from a three-year primary care track that UAMS initiated in 2021 to address the physician shortage. The fast-track medical degree program, available to a small number of scholars who agree to complete all three years in Fayetteville, is expected to grow slightly each year.

Parnell, who didn’t attend the Match Day celebration in Little Rock, is headed to a family medicine residency at UAMS in Jonesboro.


Eric Porter, described by class president Basri as "beloved by everybody on both campuses," celebrates his Med-Peds residency at UAMS.

Eric Porter, described by class president Basri as “beloved by everybody on both campuses,” celebrates his Med-Peds residency at UAMS.

Eric Porter, another College of Medicine senior in Fayetteville, was thrilled to match to a Med-Peds residency at UAMS. Porter said he attended the first two years of medical school in Little Rock, then opted to finish his last two years, the “clinical years,” on the Northwest Regional campus, to be close to family.

The move turned out to be beneficial in more ways than expected, he said.

“I very much valued the close-knit community feel of the Fayetteville campus,” Porter said. “Being on the Fayetteville campus has allowed me to have amazing one-on-one interactions with physicians in Northwest Arkansas, and the small class size has really made it easy to bond with my classmates.”

Until 2021, all College of Medicine students had to begin medical school at the LR campus but had the option of completing the final two years in Fayetteville.

Porter said his dream to become a doctor began as a child when he began seeing specialists for shin pains that turned out to be a benign condition called Albright’s hereditary osteodystophy, a rare condition that is characterized by short fingers and toes, and dental anomalies, among other things.

“I wanted to give back the same love and care my doctors showed me,” Porter said. “That’s why pediatrics is particularly special to me. I want to use my unique experience as a patient to better connect with my own patients.”

Porter also took a detour before medical school to earn a master’s degree in biomedical engineering because “I didn’t feel prepared or mature enough for medical school,” he said. But he said his graduate school experience gave him exposure to the medical field that helped him as a medical student.


Another nontraditional student, Michael A. Smith, will be nearing 40 when he heads to a psychiatry residency at Baptist Health in North Little Rock — his “top choice.”

 A married father of two who will turn 38 before the end of the semester, Smith said he grew up in a small town in Arkansas where his parents ran a small grocery store and he nursed dreams of “escaping and making something of myself.”

To that end, he spent four years in the U.S. Army, then returned to Arkansas to work as a tutor and biology lab instructor at a community college, in the process completing two associate’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree. He said he continued to feel “empty” after all that, though, and endured some personal setbacks.

Finally, Smith said, “I witnessed and experienced firsthand the severe lack of access the residents of Arkansas have to mental health services, especially those who live in rural communities, those with low socioeconomic status and persons formerly institutionalized.”

Determined to do something about it, he enrolled in medical school, gradually finding himself gravitating toward psychiatry. He said his plan after completing a residency and a possible fellowship is to “serve the very rural communities I once wanted to leave behind.”



Darynne A. Dahlem held the title of Miss Arkansas during 2019 and 2020. It was the competition’s first-ever two-year term and was necessitated by the pandemic, which prevented a 2020 competition.

“Miss America has a rule about serving as a state titleholder one time only,” Dahlem said. But the organization asked her to stay on another year, so “in May of 2020, I signed on as the first — and last — two-term Miss Arkansas, with the stipulation that I would also begin medical school in August.”

“Traditionally, Miss Arkansas is not allowed to attend school or have another job during her year of services, due to the demands of the title,” she said.

Darynne Dahlem, a former Miss Arkansas, announces her pediatrics residency at UAMS.

Darynne Dahlem, a former Miss Arkansas, announces her pediatrics residency at UAMS.

To illustrate why, she said that as the pre-pandemic Miss Arkansas, “I was in a different city every day and spoke to schools, rotary clubs and civic organizations,” in addition to appearing at events and festivals as a guest celebrity, singing the national anthem at sporting events and serving as the keynote speaker at banquets.

“In 2020, as a full-time medical student in the middle of a pandemic, this role obviously changed,” Dahlem said. She said her professors accommodated her to allow her to fulfill a portion of her Miss Arkansas duties, while the Miss Arkansas organization provided her a full scholarship through medical school.

She initially wanted to become a veterinarian, but she said her volunteer work with the pageant took her to Arkansas Children’s, where she met a 5-year-old boy and his family in 2017.

“Hearing their story about how the doctors at Arkansas Children’s saved his life made me realize this was the path I was called to follow,” she said. “I changed my path and became a pre-med student in March 2017, with the plan of one day becoming a pediatrician.”

Now, that plan is coming full-circle as Dahlem matched to a pediatrics residency at UAMS.


Kikko Haydar, who matched to a general surgery residency at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, played basketball for the Arkansas Razorbacks from 2010-2014.

His two young daughters accompanied him across the William Grant Still Ballroom stage to announce his match.

After graduation from college, he said, he signed a professional contract to play basketball in Beirut, Lebanon, where he grew up, before deciding to “retire from basketball” after a couple of seasons.

He returned to Fayetteville to earn an MBA from the Sam Walton School of Business, then put the degree to good use at a Fayetteville company for a few years, before changing directions again — this time toward medical school.

“I think the decision really boiled down to wanting to have a bigger impact on society and to challenge myself,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision, as I enjoyed my previous job, and my wife and I had just had our first daughter, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Now 32, Haydar said he faced some challenges getting into medical school as an older applicant, but his age and life experiences also helped him be more certain of his career path.

Kikko Haydar, a former Arkansas Razorbacks basketball player, carries his daughters while preparing to announce his general surgery residency.

Kikko Haydar, a former Arkansas Razorbacks basketball player, carries his daughters while preparing to announce his general surgery residency.Evan Lewis

He said he would advise anyone else who is contemplating a career change into medicine to “remember that there will be many successes and failures on this path to becoming a doctor. It is important to stay focused and not allow doubt to creep into your head. You just have to take things as they come and work hard.”


As a member of the U.S. Air Force, senior Jonathan Sledge learned on Dec. 13, 2023 — three months before most of his classmates — where he had matched. He will be going into a pediatrics residency at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, which is the only pediatric program in the Air Force to offer an integrated military-civilian program.

Sledge said he knew for most of his life that he wanted to work with children, but it wasn’t until a recruiter reached out to him during his senior year at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway that he learned about the military Health Professions Scholarship Program.

“They offered to pay my tuition and a monthly stipend for living expenses for all four years of medical school,” he said. “In return, I will serve four years as an active-duty physician for military families after my residency training. After those four years, I can choose to separate from the military or continue up the ranks. It’s hard to say now which path I will choose.”



The Couple’s Match is an NRMP option for traditional couples as well as friends or siblings who want to attend a residency together.

Macey Feimster and Troy Davidson were among the UAMS students who took advantage of it and matched to a pediatrics residency at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.

They met during medical school orientation, and while Feimster immediately thought Davidson was “cute,” the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to attend most of their classes virtually for the first two years, greatly limiting their ability to get to know each other. Feimster said it wasn’t until their third year of medical school that they finally had a date and later began studying together.

Feimster decided toward the end of the third year to specialize in pediatrics, but it took Davidson longer to embrace that idea after initially leaning toward radiology.

Macey Feimster and Troy Davidson celebrate their joint match to a pediatrics residency in Tennessee.

Macey Feimster and Troy Davidson celebrate their joint match to a pediatrics residency in Tennessee.Evan Lewis

“Going into the same specialty makes us a little more unique than other couples going through the Couples Match,” Feimster said. She said they were able to travel together to shared interviews for open clerkships.

“Before Troy, I was worried about where I would end up matching, and if I would end up far from family and friends,” Feimster said. “But with Troy, I’d be happy and excited to go anywhere.”