Published: Friday, March 21, 2014 --- 5:40 p.m.
When words aren't enough, their faces say it all.
"I don't even know how to explain how I feel," Nikki Burish said. "You're up there and you have no idea what's going to happen."
Burish is one of 160 graduating UW-Madison medical students who found out where they'll begin the first step of their professional careers. And it was all in front of a room full of family, friends and peers.
"It's sort of the fun of it. You wait this whole time to see how you react naturally," she said.
Referred to as "Match Day", around 30,000 medical students across the country learn where they'll be going for their residencies.
Burish is heading to Mt. Sinai in Manhattan this summer, where she starts a six-year-long residency program in plastic surgery.
"I spent a month there back in December," Burish said. "I was so excited to be there. I've already been there, I know a lot of the people."
Like most students, the match process for Burish began last year when she submitted initial applications to hospitals with residency programs.
"Then you make a list of your top choices and you go and interview and they go and rank you and it all goes into the computer system and you hope you match," she explained.
But unlike most students, Burish found her way to med school via sports. The 29-year-old helped the Badger women's hockey team win a national championship in 2006. After college she went on to play professional hockey in Switzerland.
"I thought I had been nervous at those games, but this was almost more nerve-wracking coming up here," she said.
Burish says becoming a surgeon is the next logical step in continuing to do what she loves.
"I think athletics and basically a surgery profession--it's very intense, it's very rewarding," she said. "You work in a team always, which I think is really important. You have to rely on those around you and sort of look to them when something goes wrong or when something goes right."
The dean of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health says this year's class had the highest rate of successful matches in the school's history.