Selecting a career path after medical school is an important decision that requires a deep understanding of oneself as well as the intricacies of each specialty. With an abundance of specialties to choose from each with their own characteristics, it can be confusing for medical students to identify the specialty that suits them best and work towards it.
While universities give us a good amount of time rotating in surgical specialties, some of us yearn for more. Out of habit we may spend time in familiar specialties depriving ourselves of more in depth exposure to other specialties. Without adequate exposure to surgery and its specialties we may form biases, the biases we have shape our decisions and pull us away from specialties that would otherwise be perfect for us.
A key aspect of surgery and surgical specialties is the acquisition of surgical skills. While we may learn them in the course of our undergraduate program, many of us want to spend as much time as we can learning and practicing them outside of our scheduled learning.
With no clear avenue to pursue these passions outside of university many lose interest or fatigue from the effort. The desire to work and better oneself is almost useless if there are no clear ways of doing so. Precious time can be lost trying to find additional ways of learning new skills and gaining exposure, not to mention the difficulty of acquiring those skills without support.
To try tackle these issues and more, over 400 students (and counting) from almost every medical school in the country have come together to form a group of like minded individuals with an interest in surgery. We call this collective the Students’ Surgical Forum (SSF).
The SSF began functioning in the last quarter of 2018. Since that time we have trained over 500 medical students in a standardized basic surgical skills course that is taught by experienced student trainers. Many students find that they are more dexterous than they previously believed and that using surgical equipment is more enjoyable than they previously thought. Under the instruction of seasoned surgeons from the Surgical Society of Kenya (SSK) and surgical residents, SSF members have also been taught how to perform more complex procedures like anastomoses, tendon, and vessel repair.
With the skills and confidence that they acquire from the SSF trainings, many students then make an effort to go to theatre and perfect their skills with surgeons. Sometimes students with little interest in surgery attend our trainings, we show them how accessible surgery can be and gently nudge them down the rabbit hole towards developing a robust interest in surgery.
Plans are underway to expand the scope of training to include orthopedics, obstetrics, and more complex general surgery techniques. Students will soon get more in depth exposure and experience that will enable them to function at a much higher level than before. The trainings coupled with opportunities for surgical electives, mentorship, and shadowing give students first hand experience which fosters and feeds an interest in surgery that guides them towards their ideal specialty.
Another important aspect that is being targeted is research. Members are given opportunities to assist in ongoing research by registrars and consultants giving them first hand experience of data collection and its subtleties. Soon they will be trained in all aspects of research which will enable them to design studies, and draft proposals.
Lastly, through our partnerships with regional, and international organisations like InciSioN, and EASSS we are able to get access and information to global events and news regarding conferences, advocacy programs, scholarships, internships, and a lot more. This gives our members exposure to all things surgical on a global stage.
It is important to note that the SSF is not single handedly addressing all the challenges that medical students face. We are however working together to tackle the ones that we can. Together with our members, universities, and organisations like the SSK and InciSioN we are forging a path towards undergraduate surgical enlightenment. It is my hope that we continue forward and work together collectively, not just for ourselves but for the patients we may have the privilege to help.
Blog Post by: Sayed Shahnur Hussein Shah, National President SSF