WORCESTER — Side by side the sisters waited, matching images of jangled anticipation. Rocking on her toes, Julia Parzych studied her sealed letter from every angle, tilting it like a seesaw, then spinning it slowly.
Biting her lip, Lydia Parzych held hers to the light, hoping for a glimpse of where she would spend the next few years of her life and whether she and her twin sister would spend them together.
Friday was Match Day, when more than 17,000 medical students across the country learned where they will perform their residencies, and the moment was close at hand.
For virtually all their 28 years, from grade school through the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the twin sisters had been together, confidantes, and nearly constant companions. Now, as they watched their classmates step forward to receive their letters, they knew their paths were likely to diverge. But they would hear the news together.
“We’ve always been there for each other,” Julia said before Friday’s ceremony at the medical school. “I think it will be an adjustment. But no matter what happens, we’ll still talk every day.”
The sisters, who look very much alike and are often mistaken for one another, have led successful and strikingly similar lives.
Born to parents who fled communist Poland in the 1970s, they grew up outside Worcester, and after stellar high school careers (with identically high grade-point averages) decided to attend Wellesley College.
There, both sisters graduated magna cum laude with degrees in biological chemistry, and both played as wings on the field hockey team.
After graduation, they went their separate ways for a couple of years, with Lydia working at a pharmaceutical company, Julia at Boston Children’s Hospital. But when it came time to choose a medical school, they decided to attend UMass together. And to their parents’ delight, they moved back home to save money.
“They have always wanted us to stay as close as possible,” Julia said.
Both sisters credit their parents for their work ethic, saying they made great sacrifices to give them every educational opportunity. Their father worked in manufacturing before retiring, and their mother works at a college cafeteria.
“He taught us how to work hard,” Lydia said. “They had none of the opportunities we had.”
During the first two years of medical school, they took many of the same classes and often studied together. But with different specialties — Julia pursuing anesthesiology, Lydia studying orthopedic surgery — came different schedules, and they saw each other less.
But they made sure to talk for at least a few minutes each day, by phone rather than text or e-mail, brisk conversations meant to quickly bring each other up to speed.
“Debrief our days,” Julia quipped. No matter where they wind up, that will continue, they agree.
“Just five minutes,” Julia said. “That’s all it takes.”
Still, both grew wistful at the prospect of being separated. They have led their own lives, but have always been extremely close. And through the various pressures and emotional strains of medical school, they leaned on each other even more.
“We’ve always kind of been each other’s best friend,” Lydia said. “I know some twins don’t get along, but luckily we have.”
Even fights, the sisters agreed, last just five minutes.
Though soft-spoken and a bit shy, the sisters are competitive and say they have pushed each other to excel.
“Competitive, but not in an unhealthy way,” Julia said. But asked who was the better field hockey player, both paused. Eventually, Julia allowed it was probably her sister, who as a senior was named to an All-America team.
But with medical school drawing to a close, both had their eyes fixed on what came next. Earlier in the week, the sisters learned they had matched with a residency program, and shared a celebratory dance in the library.
“That was the big hurdle,” Lydia said.
Yet both sisters, along with their classmates, were clearly nervous during Friday’s ceremony, fidgeting as the envelopes were handed out one by one. As a crowded room roared with applause, they whispered to each other and smiled.
Finally, it was time, and the entire class opened their letters as one. In a flash, it was clear the news was good.
“Yes! Yes!” the sisters exclaimed, embracing. As they hugged, their eyes welled up with tears.
Both received their first choices: Lydia will stay on at UMass, and Julia will go to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
But as if by fate, Julia will first enroll in a one-year program at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester. The sisters will share a city a bit longer.
The sisters then rushed to their parents, who held them close. First one daughter at a time, then both together.