The chief objective of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine is to train students to be superior physicians, who are broadly prepared to enter all fields of medicine. Choosing a career specialty is the single most important academic decision facing medical students, and students often begin thinking about this immediately after matriculation. UConn has taken a liberal-arts approach to designing the curriculum, to provide students with fundamental skills and knowledge in order to be successful in any field, and simultaneously providing comprehensive career counseling throughout medical school. Components include:
Career Development and Mentoring Program
The Career Development/Mentoring Program (CDMP) uses resources from the AAMC Careers in Medicine (CiM) curriculum and website. The curriculum emphasizes small group discussion. And of course the Associate Dean for Student Affairs is always available for individual counseling. The overarching goal of the curriculum is to provide continuity of support and mentorship across the first three years of medical school. Students interact with each other and faculty mentors in small groups over the course of the academic year. The groups remain intact as students move from one year of CDMP to the next. Students are encouraged to use social media to communicate asynchronously with each other and their faculty mentor outside of scheduled meetings. As the curriculum is structured around small group discussions participation is crucial to making the experience valuable. Therefore attendance is mandatory. In addition to the small group sessions large group sessions, involving the entire class are convened to disseminate important information.
In the middle of their third year, students select a clinical advisor. Clinical advisors are chosen from a group of approximately 50 faculty members who volunteer their time. Students have the option of selecting an advisor in the field they expect to enter, or they can choose from a number of highly experienced counselors, who can help them through the decision-making process. Students and their advisors meet as often as needed, to discuss career plans, from mid-third year through graduation. Advisors specifically address several essential issues such as, planning the fourth year (timing, electives, electives at other schools, educational opportunities abroad); creating and signing-off on special electives; writing a personal statement; drafting a CV; and preparing for residency interviews. Students may provide their advisors with permission to view their academic files, to help assess their candidacy for competitive residencies. While one faculty member serves as the formal clinical advisor, for signatures and the like, students are free to identify as many other faculty as they wish to serve as secondary advisors. In practice, students regularly meet with three or more faculty on a regular basis for counsel.
Special Interest and Scholars Groups
All major disciplines are represented by an interest or scholars group that students may join beginning in their first year. Scholars groups (surgical scholars, family medicine scholars, etc.) permit first- and second-year students to attend evening meetings often in faculty homes. These groups provide additional opportunities for peer to peer mentoring. The interest/scholars groups foster early exposure to diverse disciplines, and students may chose to join as many as they wish. The meetings are an excellent opportunity for students to meet with faculty and fellow students focused on academics and discussion of the specialty, over dinner in an informal environment.
Electives serve as an invaluable role in guiding specialty selection. Phase 1 electives, taken during the first two years, are excellent opportunities for students to select alternatives in a potential career specialty. Many Phase 1 electives are designed to expose students to attending physicians, residents and practice environments in a variety of medical disciplines. One example is the emergency medicine elective where students spend 4 to 8 hours each week in the Emergency Department for a semester and have regular didactic sessions. A second unique example is ‘Surgical Pearls’ that offers students the opportunity to shadow surgeons in the operating room, and to personally meet weekly with the department chairman to review classic published studies. Students may also design their own clinical or research electives to explore areas of personal interest. Phase 2 electives, taken in the fourth year, are an important method by which students evaluate and eventually decide their career path. Students may design their own fourth-year electives, and can take them anywhere in the United States, to evaluate residency sites, or internationally.
There is an annual residency fair organized by the UConn Hospital Consortium, a comprehensive group of all teaching hospitals and residency programs in the University of Connecticut system. Students meet with faculty from a wide variety of specialties to explore issues as diverse as training requirements, professional responsibilities, and work-life balance.
In the summer after year one, the majority of students participate in a UConn sponsored program, on campus, nationally or internationally. Students use these programs to participate in a clinical practicum or research in an area of interest. Conducting research provides students with valuable mentoring from faculty and improves candidacy for competitive residencies. One example of a clinical opportunity afforded students is the Anesthesiology Fellowship, offered to eight students of each class. Students receive a stipend and spend four or eight weeks working with anesthesiologists in the operating room. More UConn students have selected anesthesiology as a career since this fellowship began in 1998, almost all of whom participated in the fellowship after their first year.
In addition to required and elective clinical exposure, students are encouraged to participate in shadowing experiences in their free time. Many students choose to shadow during their research fellowships in the summer after their first year. The Office of Student Affairs facilitates this process, helping students find an appropriate preceptor if needed. Students receive full malpractice coverage through the University by completing a simple “Clinical Experiences” form stating the nature of the shadowing; signed by the student, the attending physician, and the Associate Dean for Student Affairs.
Research and Enrichment Opportunities
In addition to opportunities offered through the combined M.D./Ph.D., M.D./M.P.H. and M.D./M.B.A. programs, students are encouraged to partake in 12 additional months of competitive intramural or extramural research. This is usually done after the second- or third-years of medical school, although it can be done after the first- or fourth-year as well. UConn students have been very successful in securing nationally offered research positions, such as at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health. Students can also apply for UConn’s Fifth-Year Enrichment Program. If selected, students receive a research stipend from the university and mentoring in securing research positions.
Associate and Assistant Deans of Students
Career counseling is one of the key responsibilities for the Associate Dean of Students. The Associate Dean helps coordinate counseling opportunities and serves as a point of contact for all students. The Office of Medical Student Affairs maintains a true open-door policy, allowing students direct and rapid access to the counseling they require.