Oct 23, 2010

Navigating Medicine's Next Frontier

For those of us in health care, it's an accepted fact that we will spend years and years working towards our goal to interact with patients and make a difference in the world. Given the hierarchical pecking order in medicine, it's not uncommon to allow those immediate goals like passing a renal pathology exam, completing medical school, or making it through a long night on call cloud one's original motivation for entering the field of health care in the first place. We're all running on this rigid track hoping that we won't lose steam along the way. Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to refuel.

I took some time this past weekend to refuel by attending the Asian Pacific Medical Student Association (APAMSA) National Conference in Baltimore. Since the conference is organized by medical students, the programming has always been great because it usually addresses and answers a lot of questions that any medical student would have: how to survive third year clerkships, applying for residency, what a career in oncology is like, etc. The APAMSA conference also has several sessions dedicated to Asian American health concerns such as Hepatitis B, which disproportionately affects Asian Americans (more information here). I was particularly impressed by this year's programming because it really spoke to the unique position we as medical students are in given today's changing health care climate.

The conference title was "Navigating Medicine's Next Frontier" and the session led by Dr. Sunny Ramchandani and Dr. Paul Song truly captured the great potential we have although the future of medicine is filled with more uncertainty than ever before. Medicine is no longer just about absorbing every bit of medical information printed in textbooks and journals, and then applying that to care for patients, but also about actively being engaged in our health care challenges and working to shape the future of our field.

The current medical school curriculum does not adequately prepare us for these health care challenges. How many medical schools have time set aside for communication skills, a systems approach to medicine, basics in health care economics, or even to discuss health reform? The field of medicine has evolved to encompass much more than just the individual interactions between doctors and patients. We as a profession need to build an awareness of the health system as a whole and develop skills to allow us to engage in this larger perspective--to better serve our patients.

In order to address this new demand on future physicians, the APAMSA national conference had several sessions designed to broaden our view of medicine. These included a session about applying business skills and concepts to improve our everyday interactions with patients, discussing provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that address health care disparities, implications of the new 80 hour work week, how to start a community clinic, mental health and disability awareness, the physician's role in policy and politics, medical errors and adverse events, and much more.

Moving forward from my experience at the conference, I'll refer to Dr. Sunny Ramchandani's advice (paraphrased): we need to break out of the mentality of mindlessly climbing the medical career ladder and take steps toward becoming more aware of the system that we are destined to be a part of. Health care and it's challenges are spiraling out of control and as future physicians, we have the opportunity to contribute to the discourse on finding solutions.

So, every once in a while, I'd recommend taking a quick glance at Kaiser Health News or another health news source to start developing an awareness of medicine and our future. We can always come back to that pathology textbook in 30 minutes.