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Why Exposure to Specialties Should Begin Early in Medical School

Yusuf Mehkri, BS

Disclosures

February 24, 2022

One thing I've noticed as I make my way through the preclinical curriculum is how little a large group of preclinical medical students know about certain specialties. For example, many of my classmates know little about interventional radiology or vascular surgery. Sure, they may have a general idea based on the name but may not be able to explain the typical patient someone in these specialties would see. Students aren't too worried about this because they're told that they'll get exposure to various specialties during their third year.

However, this causes two main issues. For one, students at almost all schools don't get exposure to all specialties during their clinical years. During your surgery rotation, you'll most likely spend your time with only one or two services. You'll also lack exposure to other specialties such as pathology, infectious disease, and various medical subspecialties. This essentially means that you can't rely on your clinical year for all of your exposure.

The second issue is that if you do rely on your third- and fourth-year exposure to see what's out there before deciding on a specialty, you're cutting it really close to residency application time. This can cause issues if you decide on a competitive specialty that typically matches students with extensive evidence of research and connections in the field. For example, I know of a number of students who decided on cardiothoracic surgery or neurosurgery midway through their third year, only to scramble to make connections and get relevant research experience before applying. This can largely be prevented with early exposure.

One program that my medical school has started to target this issue is a specialty series. Essentially, they'll invite alumni on a regular basis to come in and talk to the students about their background and what they do. This has been incredibly helpful because it's an informal way for students to learn about various specialties and to decide if they can see themselves filling those shoes in the future. The school also has a similar opportunity for our early-acceptance program for students to see where alumni have gone, including academia, private practice, and nontraditional careers in the industry.

All medical students would benefit from similar programs early on at their schools. Not only is it a great way to get an in-depth look at what's out there but it's also a great way to gain a deeper appreciation for medicine and to see how preclinical content ties into clinical management early on.

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About Yusuf Mehkri
Yusuf Mehkri is a second-year medical student at the University of Florida (UF). After attending Carnegie Mellon University for undergraduate studies, he was accepted to the accelerated BS/MD program at UF in Gainesville. He has interests in academic neurosurgery, specifically neuro-oncology and spine surgery. He enjoys research, mentorship and community service — all of which allow him to give back to his community in varying capacities.

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