Med­i­cal schools fail­ing to help stu­dents de­velop their ca­reers

Proac­tive ex­plo­ration and plan­ning will de­velop re­silience and con­trol

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY DER­RICK RAN­COURT GUEST OPIN­ION

Ad­mis­sion into med­i­cal school is mis­tak­enly viewed as a ticket to a suc­cess­ful ca­reer. While med­i­cal schools se­lect bright, emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent can­di­dates, our in­vest­ment in them could be fur­thered by en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to pur­sue ca­reer ex­plo­ration while mas­ter­ing their dis­ci­pline. When con­sid­er­ing their ca­reer, they need to be ex­posed to the con­cepts of strate­gic plan­ning, com­pet­i­tive anal­y­sis, de­sign think­ing and net­work­ing.

Ex­po­sure to ca­reer plan­ning will en­sure med­i­cal stu­dents make the most of their train­ing.

While many blame gov­ern­ment cut­backs of med­i­cal res­i­dency po­si­tions for the tragic sui­cide of On­tario med­i­cal stu­dent Robert Chu, I be­lieve part of the fault rests with med­i­cal pro­grams that don’t ex­pose stu­dents to ca­reer ex­plo­ration and plan­ning.

Based on a 2013 re­port by the Royal Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons of Canada, physi­cians have a higher rate of un­em­ploy­ment (16.1 per cent) than the na­tional av­er­age (7.1 per cent).

Med­i­cal res­i­dents have lit­tle idea how to tran­si­tion from their train­ing into a ca­reer. Med­i­cal stu­dents aren’t ex­posed to for­mal ca­reer ex­plo­ration or coun­selling in their cur­ricu­lum. So they mis­tak­enly choose over­crowded spe­cial­ties and then fail to find suit­able res­i­den­cies and full-time po­si­tions. This leads to a se­ries of short-term po­si­tions, more train­ing and/or de­par­ture from Canada.

Since med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion is re­source-in­ten­sive for the trainee and gov­ern­ment, it’s time this prob­lem was fixed.

Academia rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of men­tor­ship in train­ing and com­pe­tency de­vel­op­ment. How­ever, aca­demic men­tor­ship is of­ten parochial and nar­row, lim­it­ing the ca­reer vista of pro­tégés. Pro­fes­sors (and trainees by de­fault) are largely re­spon­si­ble for ca­reer de­vel­op­ment, im­pos­ing a sur­vival-of-the-fittest men­tal­ity.

While com­pe­ti­tion drives the aca­demic agenda, it also un­der­mines our knowl­edge cap­i­tal. This is es­pe­cially true of stu­dents who aren’t told the rules of en­gage­ment upon en­ter­ing med­i­cal school.

Ad­mis­sion into med­i­cal school is mis­tak­enly viewed as a ticket to a suc­cess­ful ca­reer. While med­i­cal schools se­lect bright, emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent can­di­dates, our in­vest­ment in them could be fur­thered by en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to pur­sue ca­reer ex­plo­ration while mas­ter­ing their dis­ci­pline. When con­sid­er­ing their ca­reer, they need to be ex­posed to the con­cepts of strate­gic plan­ning, com­pet­i­tive anal­y­sis, de­sign think­ing and net­work­ing.

Strate­gic plan­ning ad­vises us to have a vi­sion, such as a res­i­dency po­si­tion.

Stu­dents need to es­tab­lish short cam­paigns or mis­sions that achieve the vi­sion. Each mis­sion has spe­cific ac­tion plans. The strate­gic plan should be mal­leable, based on on­go­ing com­pet­i­tive anal­y­sis and de­sign think­ing.

Ask­ing a pro­fes­sional about their ca­reer is an ex­cel­lent way to quickly shape plans. This can be fol­lowed by more time­con­sum­ing meth­ods, such as shad­ow­ing, locums or be­com­ing a pro­tégé.

With every­thing we do, a net­work (so­cial or pro­fes­sional) pro­motes us and our work. That net­work al­lows us to de­fine, gather, an­a­lyze and dis­trib­ute in­for­ma­tion. Stu­dents should build strong net­works to help shape their strate­gic plans. They should in­volve friends in judg­ing their val­ues and com­pet­i­tive­ness.

Proac­tive ca­reer ex­plo­ration and plan­ning will help med­i­cal stu­dents to de­velop re­silience and con­trol.

Then, should they de­cide to pur­sue a hy­per-com­pet­i­tive spe­cial­iza­tion, they’ll do so with a strong risk-mit­i­ga­tion strat­egy.

Em­pow­er­ing med­i­cal stu­dents around ca­reer could lead to a more pro­duc­tive Cana­dian health-care sys­tem.

Der­rick Ran­court is a pro­fes­sor in the Univer­sity of Cal­gary’s Cum­ming School of Medicine, where he chairs the grad­u­ate science ed­u­ca­tion’s pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment task­force.

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