Each year, the Medical Student Program is developed and offered by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Division of Education at the Clinical Congress. Participation in the three-day program is free to Medical Student Members of the ACS and is an opportunity for students to learn more about surgery, to network, and to get tips on applying to surgical residency programs.
Some of the sessions offered are presentations on surgery interest groups, resident training, the history of surgery, and other relevant topics. In addition, Panel Sessions and roundtable discussions focus on work-life balance and careers in surgical subspecialties, global surgery, and research. Workshops and skills sessions cover everything from interviewing and developing a personal statement when applying to training programs, to suturing and knot-tying workshops, to networking events with residents and program directors. With all of these informational sessions and workshops, the Medical Student Program underscores the fact that surgery is a rewarding profession with many different career paths. The program also dispels certain myths about the specialty, such as the lack of time to have a family or pursue outside interests. In addition, the Medical Student Program demonstrates that mentors in the field are willing to invest in and support the new generation of surgeons.
An essay written by a medical student featured on the American College of Physicians website describes specific benefits for medical students attending professional conferences, including opportunities to practice presenting research, receive feedback on their research, and critique and learn from oral presentations, as well as how to network with people in the field of their interest.*
More specific to surgery, a survey study from the U.K. showed that high school and premedical students who attended surgical conferences are more likely to pursue a surgical career.† This study used a Likert scale to measure student interest in a surgical career, with 1 being not interested and 10 being extremely interested. Before attending the conference, high school students had an average interest of 5.9 ± 2.3; after the conference their interest increased to 8.3 ± 1.3 (p = 0.0002).† Preclinical medical students had an average interest of 6.9 ± 2.0 before the conference and 7.9 ± 1.3 after the conference (p = 0.0027).† Other than this U.K. study, a literature search yielded little evidence to support the benefits of attending conferences specifically as medical students.
The authors of this month’s column make the case for medical student attendance at the Clinical Congress and for faculty members and advisors to encourage their medical students to attend this annual meeting.
Ms. Reiter: Conversations that opened doors
I have attended a few medical conferences during my time in medical school, but Clinical Congress 2016 was by far the best experience I have had. None of the other conferences that I attended included a program specific to medical students like this one from the ACS Division of Education. Having a program tailored to medical students showed me that the ACS is dedicated to recruiting these individuals into the profession of surgery. In addition to gaining knowledge about the field of surgery and the training program application process, I had the opportunity to network at the Clinical Congress.
Physicians, especially surgeons, are busy people, so it can be hard to approach them or find time to meet with them while at your home institution. At Clinical Congress, these health care professionals are away from the stress of work and strict operating schedules, so they are more approachable. I even got to meet Heena P. Santry, MD, FACS, ACS Governor and one of the surgeons who writes my favorite blog, Hot Heels, Cool Kicks, & a Scalpel, at the conference. I was also able to speak with surgeons from my own institution whom I’d never met, and those conversations opened a lot of doors for me when it came to research projects and mentor relationships.
The Medical Student Program at the annual Clinical Congress meeting is particularly well done. The mock interview sessions were helpful, as they provide exposure to some common questions and provide experience in maintaining composure during tough interviews. I appreciated that we were able to practice our answers and get specific feedback on how to improve. Roundtable discussions on what to include and what to exclude when writing the personal statement and other topics of special interest also were helpful. I appreciated getting tips on applying to residency programs, and I was able to speak to many professionals representing different programs across the U.S., which gave me a sense of how their institutions do things differently than my home institution.
Dr. Williams: Meeting future colleagues
During my preclinical years, I knew that I wanted to go into surgery and was fortunate to begin networking early. The first surgery conference that I attended as a second-year medical student introduced me to one of the most valuable aspects in my journey—a mentor. As a result of this early experience, I was especially eager to attend Clinical Congress 2016, with the hope of learning more about surgery as a career and expanding my networking circle.
Attending the conference as a fourth-year medical student was still beneficial even after my residency application had been submitted, because the conference addressed multiple aspects of a successful surgical career. Aside from the seminars discussing interview etiquette and personal statement advice, I found the interactions with fellow medical students to be beneficial. These are my future colleagues, and they were able to provide insight into their home programs. Advice from other surgeons and program directors outside of my home institution was invaluable. I learned a lot about their respective programs and looked forward to interviewing with them. General surgery provides vast opportunities in the areas of research, academics, developing new surgical techniques, and leadership and administration. Therefore, attending a conference such as the ACS Clinical Congress can be advantageous for any student interested in surgery.
Dr. Li: Reigniting the fire for surgery
Attending Clinical Congress 2016 was an incredible experience for me as a fourth-year medical student applying for general surgery training. I had previously attended the American Society of Hematology conference, but later found that surgery was my calling. My favorite part of Clinical Congress was being surrounded by people who liked the same aspects of medicine as I do and the wealth of information I could get from a five-minute conversation with other conference attendees.
The Medical Student Program offered by the Division of Education allowed me to learn more about matching into surgery and the interview process, and it gave me the opportunity to meet other medical students. I feel that attending this conference has given me an advantage and an insider’s view into the interview process. I decided to pursue general surgery late in my third year of medical school, but I think attending this conference would be beneficial to any medical student who is interested in learning more about surgery. Having been outside of the operating room for a few months, attending this conference reignited my fire for surgery. Clinical Congress also was a wonderful networking opportunity, as it provided the opportunity for me to meet people from all over the country, including potential mentors.
Attending the Medical Student Program as early as the first year of medical school encourages young physicians to go into surgery and will help students understand what they need to do to be a successful applicant. At our institution, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the annual Clinical Congress meeting has not been well publicized, and it was only by chance that one of our advisors mentioned the conference to the three of us. We want this oversight to change, so we are urging faculty members and advisors to encourage their medical students to attend the Medical Student Program at Clinical Congress. We recommend informing the surgery interest group presidents about the Clinical Congress Medical Student Program, so they can spread the word or include it in a medical student e-newsletter.
Attendance at the Medical Student Program is free for ACS Medical Student Members who preregister; however, the costs to provide this programming designed specifically for students are substantial. The ACS Foundation has developed a new giving opportunity for members who would like to support this program (see sidebar).
Some medical schools have research grants for students who attend conferences to present research, and some surgery interest groups have a budget that can be used toward hotel rooms and airfare for students interested in attending educational conferences. Getting the word out about this program and making it financially feasible for students to attend should be a goal for surgery departments across the U.S.
*Han-Lo C. Medical student perspective: Why medical students should attend conferences. American College of Physicians. May 2016. Available at: www.acponline.org/membership/medical-students/acp-impact/archive/may-2016/medical-student-perspective-why-medical-students-should-attend-conferences. Accessed June 1, 2017.
†Al Omran Y, Chandrakumar C, Jawad A, Ahmed S, Ghanem AM. The impact of medical student surgical conferences. Clin Teach. 2017;14(1):32-36.