The comedian Louis C.K. once said, "A 55-year-old garbage man is a million times smarter than a 28-year-old with 3 PhDs. Especially smarter than him, because this idiot has been thinking about 3 things for, like, 15 years. He's worthless." Crudeness and hyperbole aside, I believe that many of us medical students could benefit by carefully applying Mr. C.K.'s opinion about the value of real life, nonacademic experience to our medical education.
Most of us would agree that the first 2 years of medical school are grueling. There is an enormous amount of information that needs to be covered, and to prepare for USMLE Step 1 and clinical rotations, we are right to focus on coursework as our primary concern. However, with the stress of school always present in our minds, it is easy to forget that the purpose of our education is to prepare us to function outside the walls of academia, where we will see a variety of patients in diverse situations. Not to mention that many of us have other pursuits besides patient care that we are interested in cultivating, such as research or public health. It would be foolish to suggest that we should ignore the outside world and our biggest passions for half of medical school.
Thus, each of us must eventually make the difficult decision of where to draw the nebulous line that separates necessary from superfluous studying. I doubt that any medical student has ever made the distinction perfectly, but that should not stop us from making it as best we can. I believe that those who are able to confidently make that distinction feel more purposeful and energized during their first 2 years of medical school. I was nearing the end of my first year when I decided that I was going to begin making a concerted effort to pursue extracurricular interests, even if it meant that my grades might fall slightly. Although I was feeling burnt out at the time and could hardly imagine going through an entire school year with extracurricular duties in addition to the academic workload, I realized that I could benefit from the enjoyment and experience that those duties would provide. So, I took the plunge and tepidly agreed to help lead 2 student clubs, one of them being the Internal Medicine Interest Group (IMIG) at my school.
Now that I am nearing the end of my second year, I can say in retrospect that the decision to participate in an IMIG has greatly benefited me professionally and personally. If you are a first- or second-year medical student, there are 3 primary reasons why I would recommend participating in the IMIG on your campus.
1. Internal medicine is a broad field with something to offer for everyone. It should come as no surprise that professionals in diverse positions, such as U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, author and academic Abraham Verghese, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann, are among those who have completed an internal medicine residency. Consequently, IMIG chapters, which are sponsored by the American College of Physicians (ACP) and are used to advocate for internal medicine and its subspecialties, offer a microcosm of the opportunities available to internists. This year alone, my IMIG has planned events around such topics as hospital medicine, cardiology, critical care/pulmonology, hematology/oncology, gastroenterology, internal medicine/pediatrics, and bioethics. We may hold additional events for health care policy and clinical skills development. Students who are actively involved in an IMIG have the opportunity to plan events on topics that they are personally passionate about.
2. I would encourage fellow students to join an IMIG for the leadership, event planning, and networking opportunities. Although they may seem different, I believe that these matters are closely related because they all rely on communication and social interaction as a foundation. Before joining an IMIG, I had never been responsible for coordinating multiple facets of a large event, such as setting a date, securing funding, finding a suitable space, planning and ordering food, and communicating with the speaker. With the IMIG, I had the opportunity to do this not once, but twice, and both events had more than 100 attendees. As a result, my confidence and ability to organize events and direct people grew tremendously. I also developed strong relationships with the other IMIG officers and was able to meet many professors, residency program directors, and physicians at group events. In all likelihood, I will be reaping the benefits of the leadership, event planning, and networking opportunities that the IMIG provided for years to come.
3. Participating in an IMIG offers access to all of the opportunities and resources of the ACP. Through my involvement in the IMIG, I met a professor at my medical school who I worked with on a clinical vignette poster that I eventually presented at the regional ACP conference-and was even named a finalist in my category! This was the first time I had prepared and presented an academic poster, and the experience would have been missed had I not been involved in an IMIG. Members of an IMIG can also submit articles to ACP publications, participate in government advocacy, connect with physician mentors through a mentor database, and much more.
If, like Louis C.K., you believe that nonacademic competence is important and are looking for a way to gain some while in medical school, I believe you should make your time count by joining an IMIG. Perhaps the best endorsement I can give to my experience is that if I had to repeat the first 2 years of medical school, participating in an IMIG again would be a no-brainer. The experience was enjoyable, educational, and both professionally and personally rewarding. Although there were many weeks when the group required significant amounts of my time, my grades never suffered. With the IMIG, you will have the chance to pursue your interests, grow as a leader, meet interesting people, and benefit from membership in the ACP. If your experience is anything like mine, you will not regret it.
Back to January 2015 Issue of IMpact