It’s that time of year again. Across the country, thousands of students are starting medical school. And in just a short time—it goes faster than you think—they’ll be faced with the decision of what specialty they want to pursue.
To make that decision, these students will have to consider a variety of factors beyond their personal interests, including the training, compensation, lifestyle, and career path associated with each specialty.
When I was in medical school, hospital medicine wasn’t a career option—our field didn’t even exist. I remember going through the decision process like it was yesterday. The first two years, as you know, provide little exposure to the true day-to-day challenges and lifestyle of any of the potential choices. That time comes in the third and fourth years, and many students are forced to make a decision after experiencing only a few of the myriad possibilities.
My personal experience with this process was quite a wandering path. I began medical school with tunnel vision around becoming an orthopedic surgeon. I struggled through the first two years of physiology and embryology and the like, eager to get my hands on the “tools” of a real surgeon.
Gradually, I moved away from that plan as I witnessed firsthand how grueling the residency training was and how it personally impacted those residents I knew and their families. I was briefly tempted by a vascular surgery attending who offered to take me under his wing, but I soon came to my senses.
I then gravitated toward specialties that were less technical and more intellectual. After a very enjoyable third-year pediatrics rotation, I could clearly see myself taking care of “little people.” Internal medicine challenged me with the most interesting of clinical conundrums, and I began to see myself solving great mysteries. Family medicine gave me a nice mix of both, and that is where I eventually settled. Having the option of hospital medicine would certainly have made the choice more difficult for me. The attraction would have been, and frankly, still is, the combination of caring for the patient and the system simultaneously.
A Career Choice
Today, hospital medicine is medicine’s fastest growing field. Unfortunately, many young physicians don’t think about hospital medicine when planning their careers. It’s often considered a brief stop between residency and a fellowship—a way to make some money and pay back medical school loans before continuing toward a career in a specialty like cardiology, gastroenterology, or hematology.
That’s why SHM has been making a concerted effort to increase awareness among medical school students about the benefits of a career in hospital medicine. We have launched several programs geared specifically to medical students and residents.
For example, SHM has built a “Future of Hospital Medicine” website for students and residents, filled with information about what it’s like to have a career in hospital medicine. Plus, we now offer free membership dues and electronic access to our publications for medical students who want to join SHM.
SHM launched the “Future of Hospital Medicine” (FOHM) campaign in 2013 under then-President Dr. Eric Howell’s leadership. Since then:
- Student membership has increased 217%;
- Resident/fellow membership has increased by 97%;
- We’ve conducted five “FOHM” live events in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Chicago (twice) and will be hosting another event in Los Angeles this fall; and
- We offer more focused student and resident content at HM15, as well as the largest attendance to date for both groups.
We also recently developed the Society of Hospital Medicine Student Hospitalist Scholar Grant program. Through the program, eligible students can receive a $5,000 summer stipend for scholarly work on a project related to patient safety/quality improvement or other areas relevant to the field of hospital medicine. The program also provides up to $1,500 in travel-related reimbursement for the student attending the SHM annual meeting.
This year, the grant program’s first, three students are participating in summer research on topics that include post-hospital syndrome and physiologic alarm responses. You can follow their progress on the SHM blog. Eventually, we expect the program to grow to 10 grantees every summer.
Awareness Is Key
We hope efforts like these will help raise awareness and interest in hospital medicine and SHM among medical students and young physicians. Although our field is relatively young, it’s full of opportunities for building a rewarding, lasting career.
Hospital medicine is so much more than a medical pit stop. As we know at SHM, it’s a specialty in which young physicians can launch and build a sustainable career.
If you are a career hospitalist, I ask you to help spread the word. And, if you are a student contemplating your future, I invite you to visit us and learn more. I know you will not be disappointed.