Some students enter medical school knowing which specialty they want to pursue. Others figure it out along the way. But students don't get many opportunities to explore different specialties until third-year clinical rotations.
That's why the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA offers numerous Career Specialty Interest Groups (CSIGs) to help build excitement for medical career paths. These UCLA student groups represent some of the 122 specialties and subspecialties that medical students can pursue through a residency or fellowship.
Lectures, lunch talks and workshops
Each CSIG invites practicing physicians to participate in lunch talks, where they share their experiences, expertise and insights. This gives students an inside look at what it's like to work in various specialties.
Narayanan and Ferguson, both first-year medical students, intend to become family physicians. FMIG has made them more excited about this career path and more knowledgeable about what family doctors do, in the clinic and in the community.
"FMIG exposes students to family medicine, but we also work to address health disparities and community health," says Narayanan. "Family medicine is not just about working within the clinic, but also looking at the aspects of health that are affected in the community. What challenges are your patients facing? Are their neighborhoods safe? Do they have access to healthy foods? Do they have resources in the community to help them be healthy?"
CSIGs often host larger events as well. This spring, Narayanan and Ferguson helped plan "Advocacy in Medicine 101," a collaborative event with the UCLA chapters of the California Medical Association and American Medical Association.
"With everything that's happening politically right now, access to insurance is a major determinant of whether people are healthy," says Narayanan. "We brought in two family physicians to talk about why it's important to understand how health policy and system changes affect patients, and why family physicians must advocate so that the gains we've made in terms of access are maintained. They also taught us advocacy skills, like how to talk to legislators."
Along with lunch talks and special events, some CSIGs — such as the Emergency Medicine Interest Group — also do procedure workshops to give students hands-on experience they wouldn't ordinarily get during the first two years of medical school.
CSIGs help students learn about different specialties, build skills and expand their networks. They also gain early insights about which career paths appeal to them.
Ferguson says these UCLA student groups are equally beneficial for students who are already interested in certain specialties and those who are undecided. "If you already know, you can go to your interest group and learn more. If you don't, there are so many interest groups to choose from, with literally daily lunch talks that provide you with first-hand information from doctors, other students and residents."
Narayanan says CSIGs also help future doctors determine if their intended specialties are the right fit for their personality and passion. "You can read about what a family physician does or what a pediatrician does or what a gastroenterologist does. But until you meet those physicians and understand what their day-to-day looks like, you can't really answer the question, 'Am I going to be doing what I came into medicine to do?' It's important to talk to practicing physicians and to shadow them. Understanding why they came into medicine and what's fulfilling about the career can help you decide if a specialty meets your needs."
By Taylor Mallory Holland