Meeting the Next Great Generation of Family Docs: The AAFP National Student Conference

Os by Osman Sanyer


For over a decade, I’ve had the opportunity to spend three or four days in Kansas City in the summer heat of late July or early August. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) National Student Conference is an opportunity for medical students interested in Family Medicine and Family Medicine residency programs to interact see if there are common interests in medicine and lifestyle that might lead to an interview and a possible match when it comes time for the students to choose residency programs.  The meeting hall is in the Kansas City Convention Center, a cavernous space that easily absorbs the 400 or so exhibitors. There are physician recruiters, service organizations, and educational resources present, primarily directing their attention toward the residents in attendance to represent their training programs, in addition to the 300 plus residency programs that come to meet students each year

The two or three residents who join our team each year are primarily chosen because their rotation schedules allow them to break away during the days that the conference is held.  When interested residents are contemplating committing to make the trip, they sometimes ask me what skills are needed to be an effective part of the recruiting effort. My stock response is offered in jest. I suggest that successful days at the Student Conference require a blend of the chattering skills of a carnival hawker and the pointed interview rap of a successful speed dater.  This might have been true eight to ten years ago, when there were more exhibitors at the conference than there were students in attendance. In those days, I almost felt sorry for the dazed students who had made the trip to Kansas City, as they wandered through the Exhibit Hall aisles bombarded by more offers to engage in a conversation than they ever cared to consider.

But times have changed. The interest level in Family Medicine has climbed over the last four to six years. The numbers of students in attendance have increased. More importantly, they are well prepared. In recent years the students come with a better idea of what they want from a program, an understanding of how they like to learn, specific skill sets they hope to develop, and, more often than not, a rudimentary vision of where they see themselves taking their skills after residency.

My first thought on why there has been a leap in the quality of the dialogue with the students visiting our booth is that the academic strength of the students interested in Family Medicine is as great as it has ever been. I have the privilege of reviewing all of the ERAS applications of the students applying to our program, and I often find myself musing that, if I were to apply today, I might be hard pressed to get an interview. The applicant pool in recent years tends to have a big picture view of the challenges in health care delivery facing our country. The students are engaged in social concerns, have strong grades, climbing test scores, and outstanding letters of support.

The second reason that I think the students come so well prepared is that the Student Programs in Family Medicine at their home medical schools are doing a very good job of letting students know what is possible in the realm of Family Medicine education.  These two factors combine to create an enthusiastic and articulate cohort of students who visit our booth in Kansas City.

So, kidding aside, the residents who join our Kansas City team each year need bring some pretty simple skills to our booth: a genuine curiosity about the interests of the students they will meet, an ability to clearly and honestly describe their learning and life experiences as a resident in Salt Lake City, and a willingness to share their own sense of enthusiasm for the specialty they have chosen. The residents do these things well, and the formula seems to work. Every year, two or three of the eight residents who match with our program have paid a visit to our booth at the National Student Conference.

I’ve enjoyed my annual recruiting trip to Kansas City more and more as the years pass. Between the shared time and camaraderie with the residents who make the trip to represent our program, and numbers, quality and enthusiasm of the students that come from across the country to speak with us, I find something very positive and reassuring for our specialty in these dog days of Midwestern summer in Missouri.

Osman Sanyer, MD is an Associate Professor at the University of Utah Family Medicine Residency.  


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