Networking is a way to open doors to opportunities that otherwise may not be viable options. It is an art that has traditionally been synonymous with business and entrepreneurship, a realm that is seemingly so distant from the typical medical student experience. Yet it is a common interaction in medical school, disguised by its integration into our educational process. We network when we make friends in our cohorts, participate in school clubs and sports, request letters of recommendation from preceptors, and meet others on rotations. Networking is ubiquitous in the preprofessional world of medical school and holds the potential for expanding students’ horizons.
As medical students, the recipe for becoming successful includes high examination scores, innovative publications and presentations to reputable journals and conferences, unique clinical experiences, designation of honorary status, and letters of recommendation from elite programs. But not every student has access to resources that make these opportunities achievable on their own, and that is where networking can be effectively utilized as a bridge.
Networking isn’t a single trait that we can demonstrate, rather, it’s the strategic utilization of multiple skills and characteristics. Some of the key characteristics necessary for networking include ambition, perseverance, determination, reliability, and benevolence. However, medical students don’t always get to develop these skills in school. Perhaps this is because the medical education system is inherently a meritocracy in which an emphasis on strong performances on standardized examinations overshadows the importance of networking.
So how exactly can medical students network? I believe it starts by communicating and making others aware of one’s goals and aspirations. Whether it is through an in-person or email conversation with a professor or adviser, a message to a friend, a post on social media, communicating with others demonstrates a desire to begin down a certain path and welcomes others to join. When a student’s network becomes aware of their intent, that is when opportunities begin to arise, either directly or indirectly. For example, maybe a resident does not need any more help on a research project, but may know of someone else who does. In my case, I found a lot of networking success by reaching out to alumni in fields that I was interested in for advice. Connecting and conversing with multiple mentors, I was able to align my social and academic networks and establish a unique base for growth. The creation of a group paved the way for opportunities to blossom, not just for me personally but for others as well.
The opportunities are there, they are real. One needs only to be persuaded that networking works.
When I first began to seek advice regarding the residency application process, I contacted an alumni in the field who then invited me to talk over a video call. We set it up and I wrote out a few questions for her. It was an amazing conversation that felt more like I was being directly mentored and advised. It was great because I was able to get advice directly from an alumni who had been in the exact same shoes and had shared very similar experiences in medical school.
The more I reflected on our conversation, the more I began to think that it would certainly benefit others the way it benefitted me. I created a group on social media where students had the opportunity to reach out to alumni in various specialties for a group interview. It became a peer-to-peer networking group for medical students seeking career advice. Interviewing all these residents in different specialties allowed me to gain valuable insight into how theirs would intersect with my own. Connecting with these alumni turned into generous offers to connect me with programs.
Networking is not to be confused with taking advantage of others' success. When networking comes to fruition, it should be seen as an act of benevolence, especially in medicine. The word “doctor” is derived from the Latin verb “docere,” meaning “to teach.” I believe that a subtle tenet of medicine is to nurture the educational experiences of future doctors. Networking allows medical students to find advocates for the kinds of qualities that may not otherwise be demonstrated effectively in their applications or assessments.
The road for those fortunate enough to practice medicine is long and daunting. It is filled with various life stressors, but most significantly for students is the constant call for consistency and high-performance in academics. Suffice to say that networking is an art that should be developed and put to use by medical students for the sake of increasing access to opportunities that will inevitably enrich their education.
Share your experiences with networking in medicine in the comment section.
Jared Sharza is an MS4 at the University of Medicine & Health Sciences—Saint Kitts who is applying in the 2021-2022 match cycle for emergency medicine. He is an active member of the Healthcare Leadership Academy and is interested in fusing his passion for entrepreneurship with the practice of medicine.
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