No matter how much planning and painstaking effort they've put in to becoming doctors, medical school seniors will have no idea where they'll spend their first few years as physicians.
At 1 p.m. EDT, medical students across the country will rip open envelopes that hold the names of the medical centers where they'll spend their residencies - decisions made by a computer algorithm.
For students, the decades-old tradition known as Match Day is the culmination of years of school, months of interviews, and the construction of their own list ranking where they want to practice.
Hospital programs also make their own lists, and the algorithm pairs them.
"You get a quarter of a million dollars in debt, and you don't even know where you're going next," laughs Dr. Sudave Mendiratta, program director for the department of emergency medicine residency program for the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga.
Mendiratta recalls his own Match Day at Vanderbilt University, where seniors walked across a stage and drew their envelopes out of a large bowl.
Fifty-six of this year's medical students nationwide will find out that they'll be spending their next 1 to 6 years in Chattanooga, honing their skills at Erlanger Health System.
Directors of all of the Erlanger departments where residents will be placed already found out the rosters of their new doctors on Thursday.
"Everybody is always anxious to see who we're going to get," said Pam Scott, director of graduate and medical school education for UTCOM. "It's a hectic day, but it's very rewarding because it tells us who our entry level workforce is going to be."
In the Emergency Medicine department at Erlanger, program leaders huddled around a computer, waiting for the file with the matches to pop up on the screen.
"It's like getting six new kids, and they're yours for three years," explained Mendiratta. "You go from where they're scared and trembling and they're confident and can save lives."
While Erlanger won't reveal its new residents until after the match is public, Scott said the new residents are from all over the country.
The anxiety surrounding Match Day isn't just about where the new doctors will land. For some, it's the question of whether they will match at all.
After last year's match, there were 528 seniors who did not initially land a slot.
While most of those found programs through other means, physician groups and medical schools - including UT - have said it shows a growing problem as the U.S. faces a residency shortage, and they have pressed Congress to increase funding for programs.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.