Physicians-in-Training Article highlight: Helping Each Other Thrive

October 6, 2020

Helping Each Other Thrive: How Getting Involved in a Medical Association Can Benefit Physicians-in-Training

At the SMA annual conference last year, I struck up a conversation with an internal medicine resident who was presenting a poster nearby. We quickly shifted from discussing our research projects to what life was like at her residency program, which is not far from where I grew up. Soon, she was giving me all sorts of tips on how to survive intern year! I had conversations like these with fellow trainees from across the South over the next few days, and I left feeling invigorated with new perspectives and relationships. I realized that as trainees, we had each picked up unique angles from our experiences and institutions and had much to teach each other.

As we progress in training, medical students leave the large classrooms where we were once frequently surrounded by our entire class to embark on clinical rotations and pursue our fields of interest. Our paths become increasingly individualized, and this has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. As many of us may have already experienced, the demands of medical training can leave us feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Being a part of SMA has given me the opportunity to connect and learn from medical students, residents, and physicians who come from different backgrounds, programs, and specialties. What we all have in common is our enthusiasm for building a positive and supportive trainee community and our willingness to help each other achieve both personal and professional aspirations. This sense of unity is a driving force for SMA’s new Physicians-in-Training (PIT) Leadership Working Group, which was established this year to focus on helping medical students and residents succeed. Rebecca Fabian, the Mentorship and Networking Chair of PIT and a fourth-year medical student at Tulane, writes: “I am proud of the way the southern medical region has come together. I love having the opportunity to meet people from around the region who are interested in many different specialties. SMA has exposed me to new experiences and helped me become a more aware and well-rounded physician-in-training.”

Being a part of a larger medical association can help trainees and young physicians gain a broader perspective of our purpose in medicine. Through SMA, I have gotten to know physicians and trainees who are passionate about advocacy, community outreach, mentorship, and innovation. “It's nice to be in a community of scholars and physicians who are active outside of their institution and have broader thoughts about the role that physicians can play in society,” Ryan Halas, Research and Development Chair of PIT and a second-year medical student at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, reflects, “As doctors, we have a big job to do, but because of our experience as caregivers, we have an inside perspective into some of the problems that society faces around access to care. That gives us a unique view of the ways our work can be enhanced by actions on an institutional or societal level, which will ultimately lead to people living healthier and happier lives. It's really remarkable to be a part of a group of people who are giving some of their time to think about that in large and small ways.”

As future physicians, it is important for us to develop the skills necessary to advocate for ourselves, our patients, and our communities. Whether this means pushing back to help a patient get insurance coverage for his or her medications or starting an institutional initiative to increase health care access, the skills we gain during training can ultimately translate into improving our patients’ lives in the future. At group meetings and conferences, trainees can voice their opinions and present projects in a constructive and informal environment. In addition, SMA members are always delighted to share the ways they are changing medicine in their communities, which helps build a foundation for implementing our own initiatives. Natalie Weiss, PIT co-chair and a third-year medical student at Tulane, shares how being a part of SMA has influenced her career: “As a student, the connections that I have built through the SMA have given me insight into what my future career will look like. When I am feeling bogged down by constant studying, I am reminded of what we are working toward. I am able to get a sense of the full extent of medicine, which is so much broader than the pure science we learn early in medical school.”

There are other aspects of medicine that are not included in the traditional medical school curriculum but are critical to the success of a young physician. Topics such as negotiating job offers, running a cost-effective medical practice, navigating career moves, and personal finance become relevant very quickly after graduation. In addition, learning effective ways to manage stress, improve personal health, and reduce burnout are essential throughout our careers. Medical organizations can serve as a home base for the practical aspects of medicine and are an excellent way to seek advice from others who had faced similar challenges.

Ultimately, physicians-in-training are not defined by any specific field of medicine, such as surgery, emergency medicine, or gastroenterology, but rather by our desire to become the doctors that our patients can trust and rely on. Being a part of a medical association allows us to be involved in medicine in its entirety. It encourages us to look beyond our classrooms and be drivers for change in our community.

About the Author

Julie Yi completed her 3rd year at Eastern Virginia Medical School and is currently pursuing a year-long clinical research fellowship in dermatology. She served as president of the Women's Health Club at her school and is on the editorial boards of several national medical student journals. She also enjoys mentoring high school students in her local community. She is excited to join SMA’s Physicians-in-Training group as the Personal Development and Wellness chair.