Reflections from Dean Hecht
This edition of Clinical Connections is devoted to the topic of medical specialties. As medical students, one of the biggest decisions you have to make is what kind of physician you want to be. It’s a complex question and one that often takes time to develop throughout your education and clinical rotations. For this issue, we speak with students, faculty, and alumni about the specialty decision process and what inspired them to go in a certain direction.
We begin with reflections from our guest editor, Dr. Robert Hecht. Dr. Hecht is an obstetrician and the US Clinical Dean at AUC, where he oversees the student experience during clinical rotations. Dr. Hecht previously served as AUC’s OB/GYN clerkship director at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York and is a member of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s District XII Committee on Healthcare for Underserved Women. On Saturday, May 12, he will host a Northeast Regional Symposium on Global Health for AUC medical students and alumni. You can learn more about the symposium later in this issue.
Reflections from Dean Hecht
Unlike many of my classmates, I entered medical school without a clue as to what type of physician I wanted to be. It wasn’t until my third year that my experiences began to have an enormous influence on my decision.
My first clerkship was Internal Medicine. I loved the long-term patient relationships but craved something more fast-paced. My next core clerkship was General Surgery. I enjoyed the drama and satisfaction of immediate results but missed my patients once their post-op care was complete. Pediatrics and Psychiatry were interesting but didn’t inspire me.
My last core clerkship was OB/GYN. I loved the mix of office visits, procedures, surgeries and deliveries. A typical day included an incredibly broad range of topics, from things as time-honored and basic as breastfeeding to things as novel and technologically complex as in vitro fertilization. I was enthralled by the ethical complexities and unsolved mysteries that are encompassed by the field. I was also fortunate to find a mentor during my OB/GYN clerkship—an amazing physician who was a brilliant surgeon, a tireless patient-advocate, and a dedicated teacher. My decision to become an OB/GYN was influenced as much by whom I wanted to be as what I wanted to be.
As you think about choosing a specialty, I urge you to keep several things in mind:
1) Pick something you love
You will likely spend an extraordinary number of hours practicing in your chosen field and will enjoy your time much more if you truly passionate about what you do.
2) Identify the elements of medical practice that are most important to you
Do you enjoy procedures/surgeries or interviews/discussions? Do you see yourself as a generalist or specialist? Do you prefer a field with continuity of care? Do you want to be employed or in a private practice? Do you prefer to work in an inpatient vs outpatient setting? Do you see yourself at a major medical center or a more suburban or rural hospital? Which fields are compatible with your lifestyle and financial needs and goals?
3) Be open-minded
You may be surprised by what clinical experiences you find most rewarding. Ignore stereotypes and set aside preconceived notions as you go through your clerkships.
4) Use your electives wisely
The few months before you submit your residency Match list should be reserved for sub-internships and electives in the fields you are considering. Having those experiences side-by-side can be instrumental in helping you decide which specialty is for you.
5) Look for mentors
The resident and attending physicians with whom you work are wonderful resources. Do not be afraid to ask them about their specialties and careers. Find the physicians you would most like to emulate and seek their counsel.
6) Don’t panic if you have doubts about your chosen field
All medical students choosing a specialty feel tremendous pressure to get it right the first time. However, your specialty is a choice, not a life sentence. If you determine at some point in the future that your chosen specialty is no longer for you, there are many ways to redirect your career. It is impossible to know now what may change in your life and in your field of medicine over the next few decades.
Robert Hecht, MD, FACOG
Associate Clinical Dean, United States
Associate Professor, Behavioral and Clinical Medicine