For students beginning their medical education, the neuroscience curriculum is frequently seen as the most difficult, and many express an aversion to the topic. A major reason for this aversion amongst learners is the perceived complexity of neuroanatomy 1).
The National Undergraduate Neuroanatomy Competition was established in 2013 as a means for students to display this commitment as well as academic ability.
A bespoke 22 item questionnaire was designed to determine career outcomes and the role of competition attendance in job applications. It was distributed using the SurveyMonkey website to the 87 attendees at the 2013 and 2014 competitions.
Responses were received by 40 competitors (response rate 46.0%). Twenty-four (60.0%) responders intend to pursue a career in either neurosurgery (n=18) or neurology (n=6). This included 10 (25.0%) responders who had successfully entered either neurosurgery (n=9) or neurology (n=1). The performance of these 10 (n=11, 57.0% ± 13.6) was significantly better than the other responders (n=30, 46.5% ± 13.5) (p=0.036). Seventeen (42.5%) responders either included their attendance at NUNC in a post-Foundation job application or intend to.
The National Undergraduate Neuroanatomy Competition provides the opportunity for medical students to demonstrate their interest in neurosurgery. It has the potential to be used as a tool for recognizing medical students suitable for neurosurgery training 2).
Osler created the first residency program for specialty training of physicians, and he was the first to bring medical students out of the lecture hall for bedside clinical training. Historically, medical student education in neurological surgery has generally limited student involvement to assisting in research projects with minimal formal clinical exposure before starting sub-internships and application for the neurosurgery match. Consequently, students have generally had little opportunity to acquire exposure to clinical neurosurgery and attain minimal proficiency 3).
Neurosurgery seeks to attract the best and brightest medical students; however, there is often a lack of early exposure to the field, among other possible barriers.
Medical students show varying clinical practical skills when entering their final year clinical clerkship, which is the final period to acquire and improve practical skills prior to their residency. Behling et al. developed a one-on-one mentoring program to allow individually tailored teaching of clinical practical skills to support final year students with varying skill sets during their neurosurgical clinical clerkship.
Each participating student (n = 23) was paired with a mentor. At the beginning students were asked about their expectations, teaching preferences, and surgical interests. Regular meetings and evaluations of clinical practice skills were scheduled every 2 weeks together with fixed rotations that could be individually adjusted. The one-on-one meetings and evaluations with the mentor gave each student the chance for individually tailored teaching. After completion of the program, each student evaluated their experience.
The mentoring program was well-received by participating students and acquisition or improvement of clinical practical skills was achieved by most students. A varying practical skill level and interest in the field of surgery was seen.
A neurosurgical one-on-one mentoring program is well received by final year medical students and allows for individually tailored learning of clinical practical skills 4).
Lubelski et al. sought to identify successful practices that can be implemented to improve medical student recruitment to neurosurgery.
United States neurosurgery residency program directors were surveyed to determine the number of medical student rotators and medical students matching into a neurosurgery residency from their programs between 2010 and 2016. Program directors were asked about the ways their respective institutions integrated medical students into departmental clinical and research activities.
Complete responses were received from 30/110 institutions. Fifty-two percent of the institutions had neurosurgery didactic lectures for 1st- and 2nd-year medical students (MS1/2), and 87% had didactics for MS3/4. Seventy-seven percent of departments had a neurosurgery interest group, which was the most common method used to integrate medical students into the department. Other forms of outreach included formal mentorship programs (53%), lecture series (57%), and neurosurgery anatomy labs (40%). Seventy-three percent of programs provided research opportunities to medical students, and 57% indicated that the schools had a formal research requirement. On average, 3 medical students did a rotation in each neurosurgery department and 1 matched into neurosurgery each year. However, there was substantial variability among programs. Over the 2010-2016 period, the responding institutions matched as many as 4% of the graduating class into neurosurgery per year, whereas others matched 0%-1%. Departments that matched a greater (≥ 1% per year) number of medical students into neurosurgery were significantly more likely to have a neurosurgery interest group and formal research requirements. A greater percentage of high-matching programs had neurosurgery mentorship programs, lecture series, and cadaver training opportunities compared to the other institutions.
In recent decades, the number of applicants to neurosurgery has decreased. A major deterrent may be the delayed exposure of medical students to neurosurgery. Institutions with early preclinical exposure, active neurosurgery interest groups, research opportunities, and strong mentorship recruit and match more students into neurosurgery. Implementing such initiatives on a national level may increase the number of highly qualified medical students pursuing neurosurgery 5).
A medical student training camp was created to improve the preparation of medical students for the involvement in neurological surgery activities and sub-internships.
A 1-day course was held at Weill Cornell Medicine, which consisted of a series of morning lectures, an interactive resident lunch panel, and afternoon hands-on laboratory sessions. Students completed self-assessment questionnaires regarding their confidence in several areas of clinical neurosurgery before the start of the course and again at its end.
A significant increase in self-assessed confidence was observed in all skill areas surveyed. Overall, rising fourth year students who were starting sub-internships in the subsequent weeks reported a substantial increase in their preparedness for the elective rotations in neurosurgery.
The preparation of medical students for clinical neurosurgery can be improved. Single-day courses such as the described training camp are an effective method for improving knowledge and skill gaps in medical students entering neurosurgical careers. Initiatives should be developed, in addition to this annual program, to increase the clinical and research skills throughout medical student education 6).
Medical students in Canada must make career choices by their final year of medical school. Selection of students for a career in neurosurgery has traditionally been based on marks, reference letters and personal interviews. Studies have shown that marks alone are not accurate predictors of success in medical practice; personal skills and attributes which can best be assessed by reference letters and interviews may be more important. A study was an attempt to assess the importance of, and ability to teach, personal skills and attitudes necessary for successful completion of a neurosurgical training program.
A questionnaire was sent to 185 active members of the Canadian Neurosurgical Society, asking them to give a numerical rating of the importance of 22 personal skills and attributes, and their ability to teach those skills and attributes. They were asked to list any additional skills or attributes considered important, and rate their ability to teach them.
Sixty-six (36%) questionnaires were returned. Honesty, motivation, willingness to learn, ability to problem solve, and ability to handle stress were the five most important characteristics identified. Neurosurgeons thought they could teach problem solving, willingness to consult informed sources, critical thinking, manual dexterity, and communication skills, but honesty, motivation, willingness to learn and ability to handle stress were difficult or impossible to teach.
Honesty, motivation, willingness to learn, problem solving and Stress management are important for success in a neurosurgical career. This information should be transmitted to medical students at “Career Day” venues. Structuring letters of reference and interviews to assess personal skills and attributes will be important, as those that can’t be taught should be present before the start of training 7).