February 9, 2007

‘Backstage Pass’ seeks physicians

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Joseph Smith, M.D., left, looks at scans in the OR with second-year VUSM student Mark Newton. Newton is taking the “Backstage Pass” physician shadowing elective. (photo by Dana Johnson)

‘Backstage Pass’ seeks physicians

A new elective that allows first- and second-year medical students to shadow a group of physicians for a semester is seeking volunteers from several specialty areas due to an overwhelming demand of students signed up for the course.

Roughly 25 percent of first- and second-year students registered for the student-led elective, “Backstage Pass to the Wards,” according to Scott Rodgers, M.D., associate dean of Students, but only 30 of those 50 students can be accepted until more physicians sign on to the program.

The physician commitment requires allowing a student to shadow him or her for two to three hours every two weeks.

“I wish we could accommodate all 50 students. It is not fun for me to think that we can't,” Rodgers said. “We had to prevent some of the first-year students from taking the course. We are going to allow all of the second-year students to do it and the first-years will be guaranteed a spot next year.”

Rodgers is asking for volunteers from all areas — currently there are 41 physicians enrolled, representing 13 of the 120 specialties.

Student leaders in the Careers in Medicine Program are credited with designing the elective to provide earlier and more frequent exposure to different specialties before they choose a specialty in their third year.

Enrollees will shadow physicians in six different specialties of medicine over a semester.

There is also a speaker series for the specialists to talk with students about their career.

“If students are informed, they will be less likely to make mistakes in choosing specialties that will not ultimately make them happy,” Rodgers said.

“And this is very common. Many residents have doubts, second thoughts, about their chosen specialty. Having broader exposure to specialties allows people to make better decisions.”

Student course directors for “Backstage Pass” are Courtney Walkowski, VMS II, and Ben Landis, VMS III.

“In most medical schools across the country, and at Vanderbilt prior to this elective, first- and second-year students don't have much access to the clinical setting and to the hospitals, yet are expected to still be thinking about what they want to do,” said Walkowski, who helped design the class and took it last semester.

“We were expected to say we do or don't like Pediatrics, for example, without having had a lot of exposure to it.”

Walkowski said, from the mentor standpoint, volunteering simply means agreeing to have a student shadow you — it doesn't require any evaluations or teaching, as opposed to some of the other electives and courses.

“All they have to do is basically allow them to follow in their footsteps and show them what it means to be a pulmonologist, for example,” she said.

“It is something they do every day anyway, and hopefully it is their passion and something they want bright young people in their field to go into. I think it is a really great partnership.”

Rodgers said the class is appealing to students because it allows them to participate in health care delivery outside of the classroom.

“I think these types of electives are exciting to students because they are very eager to engage in some form of patient care, even as first years. Students spend much of the first two years of medical school in the classroom, and this elective gets them into the clinics and operating rooms.

Most students come to medical school because they want to help people, and I like the idea of giving them earlier exposure to patients through shadowing programs,” he said.

“It gives them a greater sense of purpose to go study for that exam because they know where they are headed.”