Where I went to medical school, we had numerous “interest groups”. An interest group is a group of medical students (mostly pre-clinical years) with a common medically-themed interest who meet on a regular basis. Most medical schools have numerous interest groups available. Examples include specialty groups (surgery, pediatrics, anesthesia, etc.), advocacy/policy groups (American Medical Women’s Association, Student National Medical Association, Pride, Benjamin Rush Institute), and groups for any other common bond (military, religion, etc.).
Meetings were usually structured during a lunch hour, with a guest speaker who would discuss a relevant topic of interest. On any given day, there was sure to be at least one meeting to choose from, with free lunch often provided. I gained great benefit from attending these meetings, and, in retrospect, I wish I had gone to many more. Here are some great reasons why you should attend as many interest group meetings as you can.
Learn More About All Fields of Medicine
The most obvious benefit of attending interest group meetings is that you get to learn about the different fields of medicine. As a pre-clinical student, your learning is focused on basic sciences, physiology, and organ systems. These meetings might be your first time hearing what a physician practicing a particular specialty actually does. You might learn about fellowships of a specialty, unique niches within a specialty, or even a specialty you didn’t know existed. I initially learned about Med-Peds from an interest group meeting in my first year. This early exposure was an important factor in my eventual decision to pursue Med-Peds as a career.
Networking is an important aspect in career development. Attendance at interest group meetings is a natural and simple way to begin building your network of potential colleagues and mentors. Speakers for each group are usually respected faculty or residents within the given field. The fact that they are spending their time speaking to pre-clinical students already tells you they are open to meeting and interacting with you. Take a quick minute after the meeting to introduce yourself. Most speakers leave contact info for the group. Have a low threshold to reach out and set up a meeting or shadowing experience to learn more about their field. The more you explore, the more you build career goals and identity. The more connections you make, the more potential mentors you meet. The most influential mentor I had during medical school was a Med-Peds resident I might never have met without the Med-Peds Interest Group. Our relationship and his advice were instrumental in guiding my career choice.
Going to interest group meetings gives you a chance to hear of new opportunities. Speakers frequently discuss the research, education, or service projects they are a part of. They love to have students approach them with interest. While it is easy to feel blind when trying to find a new project to get involved with, these meetings offer an easy way to discover new opportunities. Additionally, you can find leadership roles within the group itself as president, secretary, or whatever positions the group needs. This is a great way to gain leadership experience and put yourself in a position to work closely with faculty leadership.
In lieu of traditional lectures, interest groups will occasionally put on skills sessions to teach relevant techniques for that particular field. Where I went to med school, examples of this include workshops teaching ultrasound with emergency medicine, slit lamp exams with ophthalmology, casting with ortho, labor and delivery experience with OB/GYN, and suturing with surgery. These sessions were always fun and gave a glimpse into some more exciting, hands-on parts of medicine you don’t see in the classroom. Some of these skills, suturing for example, will really come in handy when clinical rotations come around.
Perspective and Fun
Interest group meetings can be a great way to keep your medical education in perspective. It is easy to get lost in repetitive pre-clinical lectures that often don’t feel relevant to real-world practice. Interest group meetings can bring it all back into focus with passionate speakers. You can see the end goal of your current study grind and see the excitement that an attending or resident demonstrates through their work. Visualize yourself in their shoes. For me, these meetings also offered a nice hour-long break from poring over lecture slides and First Aid annotations. I got to sit with friends, enjoy a free lunch (most of the time), and listen to something exciting about a future in medicine.
In summary, interest group meetings offer an easy avenue for learning more about various fields of medicine, connecting with potential career mentors, discovering new research/education/service projects, practicing clinically relevant skills, finding new opportunities, and reminding yourself of why you are excited to be in the world of medicine.
What interest groups are you involved with? What has your experience been? Comment below.