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Chair’s Column: Focus on Medical Student Education in Surgery

James Rutka
James Rutka

It is timely to inform all of you of the upcoming accreditation process of the Medical School at the University of Toronto. Medical schools in North America undergo an accreditation process every eight years. This process is conducted by a group of peers and medical education experts who systematically review every facet of the MD program to determine whether the quality of education meets common standards across North America. In Canada, MD programs are accredited jointly by the Committee on Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools (CACMS), and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). In preparation for accreditation, we have submitted several documents which provide the requisite information on how we teach the surgical curriculum to our medical students at the University of Toronto. The accreditation process itself will take place May 13-16, 2012.

I think you would all agree that teaching medical students about surgery is one of our most important opportunities. During this past academic year, we have paid particular attention to the wants and needs of our medical students. One of my first tasks as Chair was appointing a new Director and Coordinator of Undergraduate Medical Education in the Department. After extensive search processes, I was very pleased to appoint George Christakis, Division of Cardiac Surgery, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre as Director, and Shibu Thomas as Coordinator. Together, George and Shibu have worked extremely hard to improve the surgical curriculum for the medical students, and to implement innovative changes that will serve as a model for all medical schools across North America. In particular, the “crash course” for clinical clerks has been re-designed so as to maximize learning of the core surgical materials in a concentrated and interactive format.

Students working at table

Suturing Workshop

But we have done much more. Recently, Carol-Anne Moulton, General Surgery UHN, and Ron Levine, Director Post-graduate Medical Education, held a “Life in Surgery” evening event at the Faculty Club for the medical students in all years to learn about how to achieve family and work balance in a career in surgery. For this event, many of the participating faculty brought their children to speak to the medical students about what it was like growing up in the home of a surgeon. In February, we held a “Suturing Workshop” for medical students in which years 1 and 2 students purchased suture kits, subsidized in part by the Department of Surgery, and learned the art and practice of tying surgical knots, and closing surgical wounds on a simulation model. Special thanks are given to medical students, Nada Gawad and Konrad Salata, for their help in organizing this workshop, and to the many faculty who participated in making it so successful. John Wedge, former Chair of the Department of Surgery, helped tremendously with the workshop, and had this to say: “… I thought this a vitally important opportunity to demonstrate our interest in students in their formative years - to put a positive light on surgery as a career option. The current ethos from most medical educators does not typically paint surgery as an attractive career so it is critical that we do whatever possible to counteract this trend. Kudos to the Department in initiating this program! The determination and ability to learn quickly of all of the students with whom I interacted was very impressive and encouraging for me.”

Most of the Divisions have been attending the Student Surgical Skills Development (S3D) Group evenings in which representatives of the Divisions attend the dinner or lunch events, and speak to the medical students about a career as a surgical subspecialist. I would like to thank Sarah Beech, medical student at UofT, who has helped us organize these seminars. Sarah has also been involved in providing exposure to medical students wishing to practice basic surgical skills on model systems.

This summer we will be assisting with the Surgery Exploration and Discovery (SEAD) course which will provide medical students with an opportunity to learn more about the careers of the different subspecialties in surgery. Special thanks are once again given to Nada Gawad who has organized this course for the students with our support.

Finally, I have begun a “Breakfast with the Chairman” initiative in which I meet with the medical students at the Banting Institute over breakfast to provide information to them about career paths in surgery, and to answer their many questions. It has been a distinct pleasure for me to see the various new offerings we are supporting in the Department of Surgery for our medical students. Our strong hope is that we can encourage many more of them to contemplate lives and careers in surgery upon graduation. To this end, over the next 5 years, we will be tracking the courses of our graduating medical students to see if we have made a difference in this regard.

James T Rutka,
RS McLaughlin Professor and Chair

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