August 5, 2022, 3:13 p.m. David Mitchell (Kansas City, Mo.) — COVID-19 forced the AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students to virtual platforms in 2020 and 2021. When the event returned to its traditional home July 28-30 in Kansas City, Mo., it drew more than 4,400 people from across the country to collaborate, celebrate and create the future of family medicine.
“I had been told countless times that it’s a different experience in-person,” said Richard Easterling, a fourth-year student from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine who participated in both virtual National Conferences. “It was so much easier to meet my fellow students. I hopefully have made some lifelong friends at this conference.”
He likely wasn’t the only one. In addition to all the camaraderie inside the Kansas City Convention Center, roughly 1,300 attendees capped the July 29 session by making the short trek to the Midland Theater to hear the party band Lost Wax during National Conference Celebration.
Easterling had more to celebrate July 30 when he was voted student member of the AAFP Board of Directors during the National Congress of Student Members, an election slated to be confirmed by the Board in the coming weeks. He also found time to take in the nation’s largest specialty residency fair.
“I had an opportunity to meet and interact with faculty, program directors, program coordinators and, especially, residents,” he said. “It’s the most unfiltered information directly from the source.”
And that information was timely. Students can begin submitting residency applications through the Electronic Residency Application Service on Sept. 7, and programs can begin reviewing ERAS applications Sept. 28.
“The Expo Hall is a little overwhelming, but in a good way,” said Genise Browne, a fourth-year student at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. “My friend and I found a way to organize it. We have certain states we’re interested in, so we’re very particular about which booths we visit. We want to get an in-person feel for programs before ERAS. You can get a vibe about the people and the culture when you interact with them.”
The Expo Hall wasn’t just for fourth-year students. Madeline Standbridge, a third-year student from East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine, was using her first trip to National Conference to plan ahead.
“Family medicine is so broad, and I’m still trying to figure out what part of the specialty calls to me and what I’m looking for in a residency,” said Standbridge, a regional coordinator in the AAFP’s Family Medicine Interest Group Network. “I want to see everything being offered to guide my rotations this year.”
Maria Ruiz, M.D., a third-year resident at the University of Arizona’s Family Medicine Residency in Tucson, was in the Expo Hall to help her program recruit students, but she also was thinking about her own future. The Texas native spent time talking to faculty from numerous Texas programs that were exhibiting.
“It’s an opportunity to meet with recruiters and talk with faculty if you’re thinking about a faculty position,” she said. “I want to be a trailblazer and mentor for other minorities in medicine.”
The Expo Hall also featured numerous non-residency exhibits, including health systems recruiting residents for future practice as well as exhibitors offering financial resources and other services.
Ruiz also participated in the new Resident Bootcamp. That event featured a panel discussion with four family physician mentors and an attorney, followed by workshops on topics like leadership opportunities and employment agreements.
Anita Ravi, M.D., M.P.H., M.S.H.P., spoke in the main presentation as well as at a workshop on health equity. She is the co-founder and CEO of the PurpLE Health Foundation, a New York nonprofit organization for women that provides physical, mental and financial health services for survivors of violence.
“I’m a women’s health advocate,” Ruiz said, “and it was really helpful to hear how Dr. Ravi pursued her passions. It was inspiring to know how she was able to implement it, find support and navigate the system. I’m a PG3, and now is when we start thinking about jobs and issues like employment contracts, how can we pursue our passions and how we can we get that first job.”
As always, the conference offered workshops covering the gamut of family medicine topics related to career planning, clinical skills, policy and advocacy, leadership development and research, as well as dynamic mainstage speakers.
“There are so many good topics,” Browne said. “I’m impressed. It’s hard to choose; there are so many good ones.”
Browne made her comments after a popular session dubbed the Do’s and Don’ts of Residency Interviewing.
“I thought it was very helpful,” she said. “They were very detailed about questions to ask faculty, residents and program directors. They gave good tips for interviews.”
Sessions that involved hands-on learning, including suturing, ultrasound, chronic pain and joint injections, also proved popular.
“I love the procedural aspects,” said Megha Gangadhar, a fourth-year student at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, after a workshop that simulated procedures with objects such as clay models, fruit and balloons. “As a student, you don’t get the opportunity to get hands-on experience that often.”
Gangadhar said she managed to spend a few hours in the Expo Hall when she wasn’t in workshops.
“The most exciting part for me has been being around so many people who are as passionate about family medicine as I am,” she said. “It’s really inspiring being around like-minded people who care about the same things.”
Students and residents didn’t just participate in sessions. In some cases, they planned and led them.
Kate Tian, M.D., first-year resident at the University of Vermont Family Medicine Residency and an FMIG regional coordinator, helped plan five sessions.
“Leading sessions like the FMIG Programs of Excellence Award ceremony breakfast pushed me out of my comfort zone to learn how to organize events like this,” she said. “These sessions also cultivated a space for FMIG student leaders to share their ideas and support one another. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most FMIG programming to virtual or to stop completely. We hope that through our FMIG sessions we can help more student leaders find ways to revitalize their FMIGs and attract more medical students to the field of family medicine.”
Passion for family medicine was on display in the student and resident congresses, where members debated a wide range of topics and elected their peers to leadership positions.
“It’s our opportunity to have our voices heard on a national level with issues that affect us and our priorities,” Easterling said. “It’s a great privilege to be able to participate in policy like this.”
Tian said most family medicine residents know about the National Conference residency fair because so many of them participate in recruitment efforts for their programs.
However, she said more residents should know about the opportunities available in the National Congress of Family Medicine Residents.
“In this day and age, it is increasingly important to remember what physicians can do outside of the exam rooms as a group in the community and on Capitol Hill,” she said. “For residents, participating in the congressional activities is as educational as it is impactful.”