Does mentoring do anything? What inspires students? How do we engage and encourage young colleagues? I have been asking these questions while organizing an obstetrics and gynecology “career” dinner for medical students at the University of California San Francisco.
Two or three times a year, we arrange a casual encounter for medical students in all four years of study and community based physicians. Students at the medical center interact with academicians and full time faculty members regularly, and the purpose of these dinners is to expose them to a wider array of medical career paths. We invite physicians working in the community in a variety of settings to describe their day to day activities, and then offer the students an opportunity to ask any and all questions. How do you deal with lack of sleep? What if you get sued? Will female patients go to a male doctor? Are there opportunities for international work? Can you practice and do research? Do you need to specialize? What if you don’t like doing surgery?
In recent years, the number of U.S. medical students choosing OB/GYN has been declining. A survey of 226 medical students at the State University of New York Downstate College of Medicine found that while 62.6% would or did consider OB/GYN as a specialty, only 5.3% actually planned on pursuing OB/GYN. In a national survey, only 4.2% of students indicated that they wanted to go into OB/GYN. Lifestyle and liability were the most commonly cited negatives. In contrast, at UCSF, 8% of students select this specialty.
So, how does our department crank out a higher percentage of students interested in OB/GYN than other schools? The reason is an amazing departmental educational program, led by a dedicated teacher, Dr. Patricia Robertson. From the moment students arrive, the OB/GYN department strives mightily to expose them to the best, rather than the worst, this specialty has to offer.
According to Dr. Robertson, the department starts with a welcome reception for students. The department chair and other faculty are in attendance, opening lines of communication from the earliest days of training. The department offers a large number of electives in women’s health during the first two years, before formal clerkships, opening up direct experiences in the field early and often. And our career night dinners are another small piece.
There are lessons here for other academic institutes and life science departments striving to recruit bright young minds.
1. Provide seminars and social events to foster direct contact with people working in the field
2. Offer early exposure to the field through mini courses, seminars, and lectures tailored to newly arriving students
3. Provide opportunities for research projects, externships and internships for entry level students to give them the opportunity to do real-life, hands-on work in your field.
The activities within our department are not unlike the initiatives of PRISM (http://www.math.neu.edu/prism/home), an interdisciplinary program sponsored by the National Science Foundation, to promote interest in Mathematics, Physics, Biology and the sciences among college and high-school students.
Showing interest and concern for students, making an obvious effort at outreach, and creating the opportunity for frequent contact through a wide array of academic offerings is working here, and can work elsewhere — with high school, college, grad school and post grad students. We all need to make time to support young colleagues. Our efforts, hopefully, will serve to expand enrollment and help to achieve excellence in the biosciences.