Service in Neurosurgery – A Medical Student’s Guide
Whether you are hunched over a lab bench pipetting late into the night or in front of a computer screen pouring over decade-old patient charts, medical students strive to make contributions to the fields of neuroscience and neurosurgery at an early stage. Through various research projects, we can aid in the discoveries that change the world of neurosurgery, while developing our own interests and passion in the field. A close mentor once told me that to survive as a neurosurgeon, to make it through the rigors of residency training and practice as an attending, you must have something you are passionate about, something you are always willing to work hard and fight for. Through research and academic advancement, much of this can be achieved, but it is not the only way. Leading volunteer efforts is a critical, and sometimes overlooked, means of contributing to the welfare of neurosurgical patients and alleviating the burden of their diseases. Whatever the choice, it is always important for the privilege of service to serve as a mantra. Here are some efforts that have proven rewarding.
Get connected with your AANS Medical Student Chapter.
If your institution does not currently have an active chapter, starting and growing your own neurosurgery student interest group, or opening a chapter, can play an important role in organizing fellow classmates towards a cause. Since the founding of our AANS chapter two years ago, volunteer events have been a key component of our chapter’s activities. The AANS student chapter annual review helps us to keep on track and ensure we are meeting or surpassing our volunteerism goals from previous years.
Reach out to neurosurgical faculty and staff.
You can find faculty who are actively involved in volunteer efforts and you will often find that there are many ongoing initiatives that you can support. For many years, our institution has been a key part of the New York City Brain Tumor Walk, organized by the National Brain Tumor Society. Since my first year in medical school, this has been an event that many classmates and I have attended. There is great support from our neurosurgery department, focused towards contributing to this event, and it has been a wonderful means of uniting faculty and students behind an important cause.
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Beyond this, look to colleagues in the lab involved with volunteer work, foundations and other activism efforts. The Molecular Neurosurgery Lab of Michael Kaplitt, MD, PhD, FAANS, has been studying neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease (PD), for a long time. Roberta Marongiu, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience, co-founded the non-profit organization Support and Training to Overcome Parkinson’s Disease (stoPD). This organization assists those afflicted with PD to achieve a higher quality of life, while also supporting exercise programs and research efforts for PD. Led by our AANS Chapter, some of our students from various specialty interest groups have assisted with fundraising efforts for this organization for two years now and plan to continue to do so in the future.
Support National and Local Organizations.
There are many other organizations needing support, including: Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Foundation for International Education in Neurological Surgery (FIENS) and local initiatives. Once you have chosen an event, get classmates and faculty involved early and work as a team to organize fundraising initiatives leading up to and during the event. As with our Brain Tumor Walk, having an active chapter that is closely linked with the school’s neurosurgery department can be invaluable for securing the resources and manpower needed to get volunteer activities in motion. Do not hesitate to get students who are pursuing other specialties involved. Reach out to student groups in neurology, oncology, radiology, psychiatry and more and you may be surprised to find that many of your classmates with diverse backgrounds will have a similar interest and enthusiasm for pursuing your chosen volunteer efforts. This may also be a great opportunity to expose students to the field of neurosurgery, if they had not considered it before. You can even go a step further and organize your own initiatives in areas where you find need and get students from other medical schools in your region involved. Whatever the volunteer initiative may be, dedicating yourself to a cause that you are passionate about and working with an enthusiastic team to see it through is essential to success and raising awareness for neurosurgical diseases.