As a first-year medical student, it is easy to feel overwhelmed-between a new school, oftentimes a new location, and the large amount of material you are expected to assimilate in a relatively short period. In this setting, the first thing students usually give up is involvement in activities for their professional development. After all, it seems that our "real" careers are still so far down the road. However, as a fourth-year student, I can attest to the importance of this involvement as you apply for residency and in your career in general. The benefits are limitless, but I have outlined what I have personally been rewarded with for early involvement in such activities as the internal medicine interest group at my school, ACP's Leadership Day, and attending the national ACP Internal Medicine Meeting.
Time Management Skills: As physicians, time will be our most valuable resource, and learning early on how to manage your time will make this easier for your future career. Because I have been involved in several activities in depth, I have learned to be extremely efficient with my schoolwork but also with my activities outside of the classroom. This has actually freed up more time for things like spending time with my friends and family, something that will become increasingly more difficult as I enter residency. I am glad that I have practiced this important skill now!
Leadership: As an early participant in professional activities, you will also have the opportunity for local and national leadership positions. These positions can help hone your ability to organize, delegate, and speak publicly-the same skills you will need as a resident. Whether you are on the board for your internal medicine interest group, on your local council for student members, or on the national Council of Student Members, others will look to you to represent their interests and interact with faculty at a high level. This experience not only allows you to be comfortable with interacting with faculty, but also provides you with numerous connections.
Networking: Most people are not born with networking skills but instead need to develop them through repeated interactions and opportunities to practice. Professional activities, such as attending national and local conferences, afford medical students the opportunity to practice their networking skills and make important connections to others in the medical field. There are opportunities at conferences to make connections with a myriad of people from medical students to leaders in medicine. Even something as simple as speaking with a presenter at the poster session or at the end of a lecture can be the beginning of a relationship. More important, these relationships can lead to valuable mentor-mentee relationships.
Having a mentor: Being mentored is an important facet of your career whether you are a medical student or a seasoned physician. Every physician I have admired has first credited their mentor for where they are in their career. Getting involved early with professional activities like your school's interest group allows you to develop a relationship with a faculty member who can guide you as you make course selections during your fourth year and help you apply to residency programs that are a good fit for you. At ACP's national conference, we have a medical student mentoring breakfast, which allows students to connect with experienced physicians, often program directors, who can provide advice on matching to the right residency program for you. Most conferences also have mentorship opportunities specific to certain groups, such as women and underrepresented minorities in medicine. Finding other physicians with your background can help you overcome similar challenges.
Citizenship: Perhaps the most valuable aspect of getting involved with activities outside the classroom is citizenship. Physicians are often seen in their communities as leaders, contributors, and pillars of strength. Professionalism goes far beyond how we conduct ourselves in the hospital or clinic and extends to our community involvement. Through participation in professional activities, you can learn about legislation affecting physicians now and in the future, speak with our legislators about your concerns and experiences, and have opportunities to volunteer and give back.
Being involved in professional activities is intimidating, especially when you are just starting out. You may not think you have enough time-but you need to make time for this important endeavor. While I do not advocate that you get involved in every opportunity, you should consider getting involved to a greater extent in one or two that spark your interest: depth is better than breadth! The relationships and skills you build will last you a lifetime and, as I have found, what you get back will be much more than you give.
Christin M. Giordano, PA