As a medical student, my goal is to figure out what specialty I want to pursue and where I want to take my career. To accomplish this I am attempting to get exposed to as many things related to medicine as possible. On that note, I had the pleasure of attending the Academic Surgical Congress, and as a second year medical student there were many great memories and experiences that I took away from the conference. That said, as a medical student, attending such a large conference should be a very rewarding experience and through my numerous experiences I hope to share several pieces of advice that I have learned over the years.
Present something, you are the expert!
The most important experience that I have taken away from attending many conferences is that of getting up in front of a live audience and presenting my research. The goal of research is not to just complete a summer project which results in a line of your CV, but to publish and communicate your work with other researchers in the field. Between quick shot presentations, oral presentations, and poster presentations there are multiple avenues for presenting research, all of which are excellent opportunities. Regardless of what you present, the fact that you give a presentation in front of an audience is both personally rewarding and largely beneficial for one’s career.
Interact and get face time with faculty
The biggest misconception that I have held regarding the physicians that I have spent time with in the clinic is that they live in the hospital. By attending a conference this myth is easily and rapidly disproved. While conferences are typically all day endeavors, there are frequently multiple opportunities for networking, with faculty, researchers, leaders, and pioneers. At conferences like the ASC, students were able to give talks, compete in competitions, present research posters, attend educational seminars, attend mentorship sessions, as well as participate in meet and greet sessions with leaders. Despite conferences housing thousands of people, academic medicine can be a small community and knowing the right person may be instrumental for career advancement. It turns out faculty love to disseminate their knowledge and no better way to learn about medicine than at a nice dinner with some of the leaders of medicine while attending a conference.
Most conferences, including the ACS, host opportunities for medical students to interact with the faculty and leadership. There also exists mentorship sessions where students get matched with various faculty members and get to pick the mentor’s brains about all things medicine. In addition to the meet and greet type sessions there are a multitude of sessions dedicated to career advancement and development, ways to get involved with research, networking dinners, new member breakfasts, and other social gatherings. With all the available opportunities to meet new people, there really is no good excuse not network with faculty, residents, and even other medical students.
One of the hardest aspects to attending a conference is finding enough financial support to help pay for what can be an expensive process. First and foremost, getting to a conference is an enormous expense, especially as a student on loans. Registration, hotel, food, airfare, and miscellaneous expenses can quickly add up, and such expenses are cost prohibitive for many students. Thus, to alleviate that there are usually multiple avenues for funding such as state funding, grants, institution funding, and research scholarships. For example, for my trip to San Diego, I applied for several types of funding and was successful in obtaining said funding. Therefore, not only did I add a line to my CV in terms of attending and presenting at a large conference, but I was also able to state that I was successful at obtaining funding and a travel award.
Need for change for future students
I strongly encourage students to attend the ASC in the future, as it was personally very rewarding for me, and going to any medical conference in the future will be influential for one’s career. Besides the presenting of research, networking, and supplementing one’s CV, conferences are a great way to spend a few days away from the books and see the other side of medicine. That said, it would help to reduce the cost for students – let’s face it we are poor medical students and any additional cost results in financial strain. Free registration, partially subsidized housing, and of course travel stipend awards are all ways that can help. The ASC has been pioneering in this effort and I look forward to the next innovation. Also, some organizations are offering more inclusive committees for medical students, and it would be worthwhile to allow medical students to sit in on various legislative committees as an educational experience. It is very refreshing to see how medicine is actually practiced, researched, and how we as students will some day be at the forefront of medicine. There is no better way to do to that than at a national conference, and such opportunities need to be more available for all students.