Getting to Know Your New Medical Students

Sara E. Young, MD, MS, Department of Family Medicine, Georgia Health Sciences University, Augusta, GA

It’s that time of year when I start to look forward to getting a new batch of medical student advisees and new small-group configurations of preclinical students. These groups will be meeting weekly or biweekly throughout the year. Small-group introductions and ice breaker questions go a long way, but I honestly can’t remember who went on which mission trip, who shadowed with their own family physician, or who worked as a pharmacy tech in their life before medical school, much less everyone’s name at the end of our first meeting.

Students can bring insights from valuable personal and professional experiences relevant to our small-group topics but only if they volunteer or get asked to share. To help me better prompt students to share in discussions, I’ve found it useful to have a summary sheet to get the year started in an organized fashion. Thanks go to Dr Chris White, an amazing medical educator and pediatrician at my institution, who suggested this Small Group Summary Sheet. I bring a simple form to our first meeting and ask students to fill it out as we get started. This year, I’m considering asking students just to email me the information from their laptops while we’re meeting. I explain that the information will be shared in a summary sheet including all of the group members that I will send to students and co-facilitators by email before the next session. If they do not want certain information shared with the group, ask them to indicate what is to be kept private. Items include:

  • Student’s name
  • Preferred first name if different than above
  • School email address
  • Telephone number
  • Hometown
  • Undergraduate information—school, year of graduation, major/minor
  • Other work or educational information
  • Prior health care experiences
  • Interests and hobbies

At the first small-group session we have introductions all around; the form lets students prepare what they want to share and perhaps highlight unique experiences. At the end of the session, I collect the sheets and snap a headshot with my smartphone’s camera as each student leaves. With minimal effort I compile the profiles, including the information and a photo. I like using PowerPoint for this because it allows easy photo cropping, resizing, and ability to move text boxes easily. You can fit as many profiles as you want on a single page, depending on how small a font you can read. Small groups of four or six nicely fit on a single sheet with additional room for notes on attendance and participation. You can also include facilitator contact information, room number for where your group meets, or other information that needs to be referenced frequently.

Getting to know each other at the first meeting of a small group is likely the most important task of the session and helps to establish a learning environment. I’ve found that having a concrete product in the summary sheet with photos from that initial meeting helps me incorporate more of the strengths and experiences that the students are already bringing to medical school.

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