Christopher J. Li, M.S. ASA-MSC Delegate to the AMA, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine [email protected]
Rarely has anyone equated medical school to an easy task. From day one a medical student is inundated with a newly raised plateau of responsibilities and expectations. There are so many questions to answer, from those behind the science of medicine to those related to career and practice. For those who’ve answered one of those questions, that of specialty, and find themselves looking toward the field of anesthesiology, here are five steps to take during your medical school to set yourself up for success on the wards and beyond.
Step 1: Get Involved – Attend Anesthesia Meetings
When I say “anesthesia meetings” I actually mean quite a variety of events. However, all of them have significant educational and career benefits. The first is your school’s anesthesia interest group. Join and become an active member of the group – this may actually give you access to the knowledge that aids you with the rest of the steps given here! If your school doesn’t have a chapter, even better – now you have the opportunity to start one and mold it into the style you want. Next, find out if medical students can attend your state anesthesia society’s meetings. These events aid you in finding like-minded medical students across your state as well as new mentors in the field who have much to teach you.
Finally, attend the ASA legislative and annual conferences. The former will give you real-life experience in advocating for your profession with congressmen and will give you a better idea of the direction the practice of anesthesia is headed in for the future. The latter will provide you with the opportunity to attend anesthesia-related hands-on workshops, well-made lectures on every topic in anesthesia imaginable, and network with incredible physicians and students from around the country.
Step 2: Find a Mentor
Just one individual can change a medical student’s entire career – assuaging the worries of what’s next, helping prepare a student’s CV for applications, and being a positive role model are all examples of the good just one mentor can do for a student. Once you get to your school, talk to the students who have already been interested in anesthesia or those who have spent time in the operating room. Find out which physicians like to spend time with and teach students. Also, don’t necessarily settle for the first doctor you work with. Hospitals usually have many anesthesiologists, so why not shadow as many of them as you can before making that decision? Look for a mentor that gives consistent and constructive feedback – a doctor that always praises you is not a doctor that will help you learn from your mistakes. In the end, a good mentor will be your greatest resource during your student career, and will be the one writing that recommendation letter that blows the others out of the water.
Step 3: Discover Your Hospital’s Anesthesia System
Not all anesthesia departments run the same way. Not all hospitals even have an anesthesia department! Find out if there are in-house staff at your hospital, or if the hospital contracts out anesthesia groups or private practices. Look into whether these groups get to bring in their own NAs, or if those individuals are employed by the hospital. Learn if the hospital has a more NA management model, or if it is more physician case-based. Know whether or not your hospital has a residency program in anesthesia and if so, take advantage of these individuals living the life you’re envisioning for yourself in 2-3 years. Knowledge of your current anesthesia system gives insight into how that model functions, and whether or not you enjoy fitting into that model or if a different type is right for you. If your hospital does not have an anesthesia department, doing an away rotation can not only help you to learn more about anesthesia as a specialty but also help you find a potential mentor.
Step 4: Deepen Your Pharmacology and Physiology Knowledge Base
Most students interested in anesthesiology are already passionate about anatomy, the physiology of the cardiopulmonary system and biochemistry. Additionally, most schools teach these three topics quite well. However, there is a difference in both desire and quality of instruction in the field of pharmacology between student bodies and schools. Therefore, when establishing your foundation in medicine, dive into pharmacology and master pharmacokinetics and dynamics, from volume of distribution to minimal alveolar concentration. When you strengthen your knowledge-base in pharmacology and physiology, the results will not be disappointing. You will not only impress your mentor and attendings but also have happier and healthier future patients.
Step 5: Explore All Fields within Anesthesia
While not commonly known, there is a multitude of subspecialties to pursue in the field of anesthesiology. Anesthesia fellowship training is available in ambulatory,
regional, cardiovascular, critical care, neuroscience, obstetrics, pediatrics, pain management and more! Find out what specific training your faculty have and try to get some experience in a breadth of these subspecialties. This will both broaden your base knowledge of the field and help you make a career decision in the future on whether or not to pursue a fellowship in our chosen specialty of medicine. On top of these benefits, this will get you the most exposure to the field itself and to the largest number of physicians that, once impressed, will want to help you along in your career in whatever way they can.
Every individual’s path within anesthesia is different, so instead of taking these steps as literal commandments, use them to fit into your own path and help shape the way. I wish you the best of luck in your studies and hope to see you at the next annual meeting (if you’re following step one you’ll be there)!
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