March 3, 2006

Med students’ Web site gaining national notice

Featured Image

Scott Rodgers, M.D., assistant dean for Medical Student Affairs, and second-year VUSM student Sanjay Patel work together on updating the new Careers in Medicine Web site.
Photo by Dana Johnson

Med students’ Web site gaining national notice

A new Careers in Medicine Web site created by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) students is being used as a nationwide model for assisting physicians-in-training as they choose a career from more than 108 specialties and sub-specialties in medicine.

Vanderbilt Assistant Dean for Medical Student Affairs Scott Rodgers, M.D., and VUSM second-year student Sanjay Patel simply wanted to keep students “informed” but the concept has since been featured in a presentation last fall at the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) meeting in Washington.

Careers in Medicine is a national program sponsored by the AAMC and individual universities are encouraged to create student organizations that link to the national initiative.

“Sanjay did the AAMC presentation … it was well-attended, well-received, and afterwards we actually had schools calling us because they wanted to create their own Web sites based on our model,” Rodgers said.

“It made me feel really good because I feel like our students came through for the school and I really believe it is making a difference.”

Several things make the Vanderbilt Web site unique, beginning with the idea that the information is entered and updated by students.

“One of the best resources that we have is the student body,” Rodgers said. “They are extremely hard working, industrious and intelligent. And they are also very, very creative. If you can tap into some of that talent, you can really accomplish amazing things.”

“I don't have the creative skills and the Web technology savvy to do something as impressive as what is on that site, but I knew that the students did,” he added.

Each specialty page contains a description of that career and contact information for the residency director, faculty advisers, and students with the same interests. Contact information for some doctors in the area may also be provided.

An events page is updated with items of interest for all medical students and a virtual clock in the bottom left-hand corner of the home page provides a “Countdown to Match Day.”

The “Ask the Experts” feature gives students an interactive platform to ask questions anonymously. Each week is devoted to a different specialty and the questions and answers are archived for future reference.

“Most medical students won't take the time to look up the residency director or write them an e-mail,” said Patel, who created the Web site with a student committee.

“This removes all of that weight. Students are more likely to ask questions.”

Rodgers estimates that nearly half of all residents will second-guess their career choice at some point during their training.

“You hear that a lot from graduates everywhere, so the best way to avoid having someone make a mistake in a specialty choice is to make sure that they are informed as much as possible while they are here,” Rodgers said.

Faculty advisers engage in e-mail correspondence with students, participate in mentoring and advising, and allow some shadowing with an attending at a hospital or in a private clinic, Rodgers said.

“I came here, like everyone else, because I wanted to be a doctor,” Patel said.

“We are going to be doctors in the end, but now that we are here we have the choice of 108 things that we can do as doctors.”

“Dean Rodgers always emphasizes that you are going to be spending the next 30,000 hours of your life in this specialty and you might as well equip yourself with the best information to make that decision. It's a tough thing.”

Rodgers said the site has enabled him to tailor his approach to students when he has one-on-one career counseling sessions.

“When I go to them I know exactly what they are hearing and what they have read online and then I can really focus my efforts. I just feel like our job with counseling in careers is to keep the students informed,” he said.

“I think the Web site is becoming a part of their culture and that needs to happen for it to be really and truly useful.”