By Miliana Vojvodic, HBSc, MSc, MD (Class of 2014)

Miliana completed her HBSc at the University of Guelph before completing her MSc and MD at the University of Toronto. During her medical training, she was the Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Toronto Notes (30th Ed), a popular study resource for the LMCC (Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada) Step 1 and USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam) Step 2 exams and the Essentials of Clinical Examination (7th Ed), an internationally published text for healthcare trainees. She is currently a Surgical Resident in Toronto. Here she shares how a post-graduate degree can benefit one’s medical education and beyond.

Many educational routes can lead aspiring physicians to their career of choice. In a knowledge economy, medical schools take advantage of the educational diversity and breadth of experiences within their student cohorts. Graduate students, in particular, have the asset of advanced research and critical thinking skills, which are viewed favourably in the competitive world of academic medicine. Furthermore, I would argue that the expertise, professionalism, and maturity of many graduate applicants are also coveted attributes.

Students who enter their medical studies with a Masters or Ph.D. degree will find their acquired skills to be easily transferable in an environment where fast-paced, independent learning is critical for success. Whether the ultimate career goal is to become a rural family physician or a sub-specialized clinician at a tertiary care center, entering medical school with a graduate degree in science offers an abundance of advantages for aspiring doctors.

1. Appraising medical evidence
Modern medicine is based on evidence, past and present. Medical school curricula are designed around the most fundamental principles across various specialties, provided in discreet packages or units for the benefit of the learner. Inherently, the information delivered to medical students is often the most distilled version of many years of research. The further along a medical student is in their studies, the more integral it will be to read and understand recent medical literature. During their clinical training years, students are exposed to rounds and journal clubs, where meaningful discussions are based on the latest landmark publications and clinical trials.

An experienced graduate student will know that not all published studies are equivalent and that there is variation in the level of evidence and the quality of research methods. Graduate students in the sciences have spent a significant amount of time appraising the literature, formulating critiques, and most importantly summarizing findings into the most important and validated points. Research methodology and statistical analysis may also be more familiar to graduate students.

It is also important to recognize the value of effective literature appraisal after completing medical school. Residents are encouraged to maintain a good understanding of landmark trials in their field and commonly analyze smaller studies for their practical relevance. Working physicians also need to maintain their credentials continuously by reviewing the new literature and applying updated guidelines and protocols in their practice.

2. Conducting original research
Medical students are encouraged to seek research opportunities throughout medical school. The goal of students and their respective supervisors is to conduct high-quality research that will influence their specialty through conference presentations and publications. In addition to acquiring research skills and proficiency in their field of study, completing a successful research project can be a significant advantage for the residency match and beyond. There are in fact very few reasons for avoiding research opportunities during medical school.

Designing a novel research project is an exciting challenge, but it also requires careful planning and foresight. Medical students with graduate degrees often have the necessary experience that allows them to work efficiently and independently, especially since time is scarce and expectations are high in medical school. Graduate students also often have a good network of colleagues and mentors for peer feedback on their research work. A trainee who can demonstrate a high level of independence in carrying a project from start to finish is a valuable asset to any supervisor.

3. Medical writing and publishing
An essential component of postgraduate training in the sciences and many other fields is the completion of a thesis and, in most cases, the submission of original manuscripts for publication. Writing a comprehensive thesis can take many months as a manuscript goes through a lifecycle of reviews and edits by colleagues and supervisors. This allows graduate students to develop refined scientific writing skills in order to become proficient at translating research findings into comprehensive and clearly written concepts.

These skills can all be easily transferred to medical school, as many medical students will attempt to publish a research study or participate in medical writing and editing for a student publication. Medical students may submit original manuscripts to student-run medical journals and magazines. For example, the University of Toronto Medical Journal (UTMJ) 13, the Harvard Medical Student Review (HMSR) 14 and the Stanford Medicine Magazine 15 accept original and review pieces from medical students across Canada and the US. Medical student-produced textbooks such as Toronto Notes 16 have also garnered tremendous success over the past few years and offer an opportunity for involvement.

Lastly, medical students’ opinions on educational and medico-social issues are highly valued by the medical education community. Medical students increasingly use opinion pieces, commentaries, and position papers as a method of communication with the public and medical professionals on current issues related to medical education and practice. Articulating arguments with clear supporting evidence will allow medical student writers to engage readers in critical thinking and dialogue for reform.

The section above highlights only a few of the many benefits that graduate degrees hold for aspiring medical students. Whatever your path to medical school may be, an advanced degree in the sciences will nearly always prove itself an asset throughout your professional journey in medicine.

13 University of Toronto Medical Journal.
14 Harvard Medical Students Review.
15 Stanford Medicine Magazine.
16 Toronto Notes, a study resource for Canadian Medical Licensing Exam.

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