Can community service and similar opportunities cultivate compassionate physicians?
Writing Competition 2019
Whether you have personally applied, are currently applying, or simply know of someone who has applied to medical school, you already know that academic performance is not the only factor in whether or not an applicant receives that coveted admissions letter. The mantra from nearly all academic advisors is, “a competitive applicant has an impressive list of extracurricular activities, leadership positions, extensive community service and/or participated in a medical mission trip.” It may seem like an impossibly long list of boxes to check, but please take a moment to reflect on why medical schools value candidates with these experiences.
…we have discovered that passion, a solid work ethic, and the ability to ask for help will allow someone to succeed academically.
Just as being a strong medical school candidate is not just about grades, becoming a strong, compassionate physician is not solely dependent on one’s academic performance in medical school. To clarify, that is not to say that grades and academic performance have no consequence. In our experience as first and third-year podiatric medical students, we have discovered that passion, a solid work ethic, and the ability to ask for help will allow someone to succeed academically. But to be a good, compassionate physician, the bedside manner is arguably the most significant factor.
The phrase “bedside manner” may be ambiguous to some readers. For the purpose of this discussion, “bedside manner” is an all-inclusive term for how a physician makes the patient feel. For example, how can you answer the questions:
- Are you able to put them at ease quickly and foster a sense of trust?
- Does the patient feel comfortable sharing the details of their health with you?
- How do they feel when they leave the appointment?
- Do you make them feel heard and understood during the appointment they have with you?
Most, if not all, of these questions, relate to a physician’s interpersonal skills. How do you strengthen your interpersonal skills, you may be wondering? It all relates back to the many, varied experiences that are expected of medical school applicants.
Do the extracurricular and service opportunities stop upon matriculating into medical school? It is understandable that these activities may fall to the wayside upon starting the first year of studies. The course load in medical school is extremely rigorous and challenging, and the concept of “free time” seems utterly hilarious at the beginning of the first year. Once a student has settled into a routine and some semblance of balance, however, these extracurricular experiences become imperative to continuing his or her education and development into a worldly, healthcare professional to provide the quality care that patients deserve.
Community service and medical missions, in particular, are so important for medical students, especially podiatric medical students. Involvement in such activities provides many benefits to the community and the students. It goes without saying that volunteers provide many services that otherwise may not have been available, and this service work has an incredible, positive impact on local communities. This article focuses on the benefits to the students because strong, well-rounded medical students eventually become strong, understanding, and compassionate physicians.
Beyond the obvious and immediate sense of fulfillment provided by helping others, service opportunities allow students to interact with people of many different backgrounds and life experiences. This increases one’s cultural competency and comfort level with meeting and learning from complete strangers. It allows students to have a positive impact on their communities while in school. Hopefully, after graduation, they will continue to care for these communities in a different way as healthcare professionals.
An additional benefit to participating in community service while in school is the ability to expand your worldview beyond the medical school “bubble.” The majority of the first and second years of study involve lectures, PowerPoints, flashcards, textbook material, multiple-choice exams, anatomy lab, and countless hours in the library or a favorite study spot. It is easy to get lost in the academics and to lose track of the world outside of the medical school bubble. Volunteering in the community and interacting with people outside of school provides a sense of perspective in that it reinforces that there is more to life than a lackluster grade on an exam. These experiences and interactions with possible future patients also humanize the basic sciences and provide additional motivation to perform well in such classes. This reward is even more so with medical missions. The hands-on experience providing care for patients within the community or beyond reminds the student of their “why.” More specifically, many medical professionals become involved in healthcare with the goal of helping others. It is possible to lose track of that goal, or the vision of being a physician may become blurry through the ostensibly infinite hours of classes like biochemistry that might not seem to relate to medicine at all. Interacting and caring for patients or people in the community remind students of their “why,” and may either reignite or simply continue to fuel their passion throughout the challenging years of study.
This profession and journey to becoming a podiatrist are not for the faint of heart, and guest speakers help remind students of their “why.”
The Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine is fortunate to have numerous, varied student-run organizations and clubs that offer education, community service, and many more opportunities to students. We are involved in the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) student chapter at Temple. Our organization does not host a conventional community service project, but the countless education, research, and clinical opportunities offered by the ACFAS club all facilitate the development of well-rounded future podiatrists. The educational lectures have a similar effect to that of community service. Having guest clinicians visit and speak on topics they are often experts in and passionate about, increases morale and sparks that excitement in an otherwise monotonous routine of class, study, sleep. This profession and journey to becoming a podiatrist are not for the faint of heart, and guest speakers help remind students of their “why.”
The ACFAS club offers surgical skills workshops, allowing students to build their skill set and become more comfortable with techniques that will be used in the operating room and in the clinic. This not only increases a student’s knowledge base but by gaining more experience and comfort early on, it frees up more energy to devote to providing an excellent bedside manner as third-year students in clinic and in the years that follow.
Finally, the ACFAS student chapter conducts a research study each year. Research is yet another way students can have a huge impact early on in their studies. As a practicing physician, there is a limited number of patients that can be seen in one day, month, or year. Time is finite and limits a physician’s caseload. Research, on the other hand, has the potential to influence the standard of care for patients all over the world. The hope is that providing research opportunities early on in school will increase the emphasis on podiatric medical research in the future, affecting the entire field of podiatric medicine.
The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons at Temple is just one of many student clubs that have a huge impact on the student body and the future of podiatric medicine. The opportunities provided by ACFAS and many other clubs provide opportunities to enrich a medical student’s education outside of the traditional course load. Organizations like ACFAS, and experiences including community service, medical missions, and education opportunities, all combine to strengthen the skill set of the students. This ultimately allows such individuals to serve their future patients well. These opportunities should remain available and participation should be encouraged throughout medical school because these experiences prepare students to become culturally competent world citizens and comforting, effective, and compassionate future medical professionals.
“Can Community Service and Similar Opportunities Cultivate Compassionate Physicians?”
by Alexandra Brown & Stephanie Golding
Student Org: ACFAS student chapter
School: Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine
1st Annual Hallux Magazine Writing Competition – 2019
Hallux Magazine Writing Competition – Finalist, 3rd place winners!
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