Third-year medical students Adam Neufeld and Preston Njaa are working to create a program for first-year medical students to allow them to explore a wide-variety of medical specialties. Photo by Kristen McEwen
Third-year medical students Adam Neufeld and Preston Njaa are working to create a program for first-year medical students to allow them to explore a wide-variety of medical specialties. Photo by Kristen McEwen

PRISM: Pre-clerkship Introductions to Specialities in Medicine

All medical students get asked the coveted question in medical school, ”So, do you know what you want to be when you grow up?” It's a question many students find difficult to answer.

The challenge lies in the overwhelming vastness and ambiguity around the many career options in front of them. How to confidently narrow things down? Students in first year feel this pressure almost right away. Before they know it, first year is done and they are frantically ranking their core rotations in their third year, in hopes to rule things in or rule things out. This matters because the first few rotations they choose come before the CaRMS portal opens up and elective applications commence for their fourth year.

Ultimately, students feel a need to understand career options and make decisions before their second year even starts – a task that for many is simply unrealistic, very difficult, and a highly stressful process. Not to mention, it creates a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out), as many specialties are felt to be under-represented during pre-clerkship training and are challenging or impossible to access through simple shadowing or student interest groups.

What about creating a program that could expose students to a variety of specialties early in their medical education, to shed light on all the many exciting and alternative pathways students can take with their MD?

In collaboration with Todd Dow, founder of PREP at Dalhousie (Pre-clerkship Residency Exploration Program), Adam Neufeld (third-year medical student and founder of PULSE) and Preston Njaa (third-year medical student and Student Wellness Representative) are putting their heads together to create a similar program at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) College of Medicine (CoM), called PRISM (Pre-clerkship Introductions to Specialties in Medicine).

PRISM aims to let first-year students explore a wide-variety of medical specialties (of students’ choosing) at the pre-clerkship stage. PRISM is not part of the USask CoM PREP program (Physician Recruitment Agency of Saskatchewan's Rural Externship Program), which helps second-year students gain experience in rural family medicine and prepares them for clerkship.

PRISM will be offered to first-year students as a two-week, all-inclusive, early summer experience. It will provide students with a unique and rich learning environment and direct exposure, early in their medical education.

“As medical students, we are extremely privileged to have so many potential career options to choose from; yet with this great volume of possibilities comes difficulty in gaining adequate exposure to these areas of specialty,” Preston said.

“At the University of Saskatchewan, between the current curriculum at the College of Medicine, specific student interest groups, and other extra-curricular programming, there are already opportunities in place to gain some exposure to a limited number of medical careers,” he said. “We feel that PRISM further adds to and expands on these areas to provide students with earlier and more in-depth experience as to what residency training and beyond will involve in many different areas of medicine.”

More specifically, PRISM will allow our medical students to engage in lunchtime didactic talks and Q&A sessions with residents and attending physicians, practice speciality-specific simulations, enjoy procedural skills circuits and team-based challenges, and actually see and learn firsthand what these physicians do for a living, and whether that career and lifestyle suits them. This program is highly sought out by medical students at Dalhousie and has the potential to be very successful at the CoM here in Saskatchewan.

“Between PULSE that connects medical students of all different years in the College of Medicine, and now PRISM which will connect students with career mentors, faculty and physician specialists, and other medical students, the College of Medicine is really leading the charge in terms of medical student leadership, career advocacy, and wellness,” Adam said.

“A big part of student stress comes from the unknown; the uncontrollable; of being disconnected. These projects address those stressors at their root and makes things fun at the same time.”

Adam and Preston, who are both entering into their fourth and final year in the MD program at the USask, are currently working alongside faculty to get the program off the ground. In collaboration with a few select second-year medical students (who will direct and develop the program throughout the year), their aim will be to unroll PRISM next summer, for the class of 2024.

Thanks, and stay tuned!

Adam & Preston

Class of 2020, MD Program
College of Medicine
University of Saskatchewan

Share this story