The 102nd AATS Annual Meeting in Boston was one of the most remarkable experiences I had the opportunity to take part in as a medical student aspiring to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.
It was a collection of the most intellectual, hardworking, innovative, and interesting people from around the globe, all with the common goal of advancing medicine through the scientific method. Each day was full of ground-breaking science carried out across the world. It all came to fruition in front of my eyes. This was the perfect place to be: where one could see if the multiple and grueling years of training after medical school is something they want to pursue. I gained insights regarding the trajectory of the next generation of medicine, where the field is going, and how we are currently at a tipping point in thoracic surgery; equally as important, I met the people who make up the association. Beyond the people, the science, discussion, leadership, and organization were unbelievable. Each day contained a vast array of topics and new areas for exploration. For example, on Saturday, I met the AATS President, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, in a meeting about increasing diversity within the field. Sunday, I took part in a historic lecture about the first pig heart xenograft for heart tranplantation by Dr Bartley Griffith. Finally, on Monday, I found myself in the simulation lab using a new, FDA-approved hybrid aortic arch graft, hearing motivational words from Malcolm Gladwell and the remarkable story about the grit of the current AATS President. The entire meeting had me in awe at all points, making me confident that thoracic surgery is unmatched.
Before coming to this meeting, my exposure to the field and the surgeons was limited. I came in knowing just the stereotypes regarding the persona of these people, who I consider the embodiment of excellence. To my surprise, everyone I met (program directors, leaders, and surgeons alike) were all extremely kind people who were easy to talk to and eager to answer questions. This highlighted a critical aspect regarding the meeting: my admission.
As an upcoming third-year medical student at the Medical College of Georgia, I wondered why I was at this meeting. What did I have to offer? Uniquely, this meeting gave 45 medical students, residents, and fellows the chance to participate in the Member-for-a-Day experience. These candidates were paired with a mentor who exposed them to this great profession and its offerings. Though I did not have anything to offer acutely, I was eager to learn and willing to work. I was paired with Dr. Chris Malaisrie, a cardiothoracic surgeon in Chicago who specializes in adult cardiac surgery. He must be a titan of sorts because he could not walk more than 50 feet without encountering someone he knew high up at another renowned institution. Being the great guy he is, he connected me with these people and showed me the ropes. I hope to run into them again at the next meeting and during interview season.
These connections are invaluable to my own edification because this is a direct line into what it is like to be part of the most prestigious group of thoracic surgeons in the world. It allows me to answer the question: “Is this something I can live without?” Upon cessation of the weekend, I found myself fixated on and invigorated by the interactions I had, the feel of the field, and the opportunity for growth and innovation. Thinking back on the experience now, I still get a feeling of overt excitement about the future and where we are heading. Moreover, I long for the day when I can be a big part of what this association is doing.
Mr. Mendoza has no conflicts of interest to report.