Involvement in academic organizations enhances medical student life. These organizations provide a forum for learning beyond the classroom. They also help students network with peers, faculty members, medical practitioners and a variety of other medical professionals.
The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM) hosts both university-wide and medical-specific academic organizations. The DGSOM chapter of the American Medical Association (AMA), for example, "is dedicated to informing our student body about health policy and the major issues at the state and national level." The organization helps students become leaders and advocates and provides networking opportunities with prominent AMA-member researchers and physicians.
Not all academic groups are affiliated with professional organizations; many UCLA students govern their own groups. The American Medical Student Association (AMSA), for example, is dedicated to a better understanding of world health problems and to "improving health and healthcare delivery to all people." It benefits future physicians by engaging them in activist roles and empowering them to make community-sensitive career decisions. Another student-led group, the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), "is the nation's oldest and largest student organization focused on the needs and concerns of medical students of color." Duty-bound to ensure minorities are recruited and retained and focusing on the needs of underserved communities, the SNMA is open to all, as "its service to humanity transcends ethnic lines."
Students can also build academic support systems through memberships in specialty interest groups, such as the Anesthesiology Interest Group and the Women in Surgery Interest Group. These groups allow first- and second-year students to get early, up-close perspectives on their chosen specializations and to network with specialists in the field. Aspiring cardiologists, for example, can join the Cardiology Interest Group, which arranges lunchtime meetings where leaders in cardiology research speak on their cutting-edge work. In addition to attending social events that offer links to both clinical and research practitioners, students can shadow practicing cardiologists.
Another benefit of specialty groups is the chance to discuss residencies, career paths and other opportunities with experienced physicians. The Family Medicine Interest Group helps its members gain access to regional and national conferences and provides a platform for student networking. It also sponsors educational workshops, mentoring opportunities and lunch talks. By participating in a variety of community service events and putting family medicine in action, the group’s members meet patients of all ages and social strata.
Specialty groups can also help students develop clinical skills in their specialty earlier than they would in the traditional academic trajectory. For students planning to work in emergency medicine, for example, the Emergency Medicine Interest Group introduces medical students to the physicians who staff the UCLA Emergency Department. While shadowing these practitioners, students perform front-line emergency medical tasks such as starting IVs, splinting fractured bones and suturing wounds.
Active participation in academic organizations enriches student life at the DGSOM, immersing students in the vanguard of their fields and providing them with guidance and support as they build their skills.