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News & Press: eConnections

Member Spotlight: Sarah Armenia & Shree Agrawal

Thursday, November 30, 2017  
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Sarah Armenia, currently in her research year between MS2 and MS3 at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and Shree Agrawal, in her fourth year at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, have contributed so much to our organization as student members. They did an absolutely outstanding job co-organizing and co-moderating this year’s AWS Scientific Session. For that reason, they have been selected for this issue of eConnections Member Spotlight!

How did you become interested in surgery?

Sarah: I fell in love with surgery as a physician assistant student and knew I had to take the plunge and go to medical school. Surgery was my first rotation, and it changed my life to such an extent that I immediately applied to medical school while still in PA school. I finished the program and started medical school that fall.

Shree: I had performed research on prostate cancer prior to starting medical school to examine treatment decisions and quality of life outcomes. When I started medical school, I wanted to see the actual urologic procedures related to my research. It was a slippery slope once I saw my first few cases. I could not help it; I was hooked.

Did you have any key mentors along the way? If so, how did they help?

Sarah: One of the biggest decisions of my life was choosing to apply to medical school instead of practice as a physician assistant. As I rotated through different hospitals, I encountered a lot of criticism and had a lot of doubts about my career change. It was a challenging experience to apply to medical school while actively rotating and completing the physician assistant program. I have been lucky enough to work with many residents and fellows along the way who encouraged me to just go for it. These were people actively training that I aspired to be like in a few years, and their encouragement was so important during the application process. The people a few steps ahead of you along your path are often able to see your potential when your confidence wavers and it’s important to trust their guidance during tough times.

Shree: I have had many mentors and sponsors who have helped me towards my goals. However, the two I would say who have supported my career the most were Drs. Hadley Wood and Rahul Tendulkar in urology and radiation oncology, respectively. Words cannot explain how grateful I am to have both as mentors from the beginning of medical school. In every research endeavor, personal vision, professional quandary they have been invaluable guides.

How did you become involved with AWS?

Sarah: During the summer in between my completion of the physician assistant program and beginning medical school, I sought out opportunities to interact with other medical students who knew they were interested in surgery. I joined the ACS but was particularly interested in finding other female peers, so I simply googled “women surgeons” and came across the AWS. I was fascinated and went through the entire website and ultimately stumbled across the National Medical Student Committee. I assumed it was unlikely I would be selected, but I decided to apply for the committee as an incoming MS1 and have been a committee member ever since. I am so thankful for being chosen to be on the committee at an early stage of medical school because it got me involved in the AWS conferences immediately and gave me the opportunity to meet many of the women surgeons I consider to be mentors today.

Shree: I joined the chapter at my medical school at the beginning of my first year, mostly to see the surgical faculty panel put on at the end of the year. After seeing the potential opportunities AWS could provide to women interested in surgery, I wanted to see how AWS worked at a national level. After joining the committee, I have only become more inspired by the women I have met through this organization.

What do you think are particular challenges for women medical students interested in surgery? How has AWS helped or how can we help in the future?

Sarah: We have made such great strides over the last few decades in evening out the gender distribution of medical students matching into general surgery. The biggest challenge we face now is retaining women surgeons in academic medicine and achieving similar equality in leadership roles. There are still very few women surgeons who are full professors or chairs of their departments, although fortunately these numbers are beginning to rise. AWS has been critical in connecting women surgeons so that they can support each other and help facilitate future opportunities. This was truly captured in the theme of the 2017 conference: Better Together.

Shree: I believe the key to a future in surgery is confidence. By the time students start their surgical clerkship, students who feel comfortable in the OR, who have seen procedures and have an idea of the general layout are often more confident in their performance. These students are most likely to succeed in their rotations if they have a level of comfort. In my experience, women are less likely to receive preclinical OR time or opportunities to connect with surgical faculty members. I believe AWS strives to close this gap by creating opportunities for mentorship and surgical resources in an effort to improve medical student confidence in surgery.

What are your future plans?

Sarah: I plan on applying to general surgery residency programs and ultimately would love to end up in pediatric surgery.

Shree: My dream is to match into a urology residency and to continue to research the patient outcomes following shared decision-making.

You were incredible at this year’s Scientific Session. Tell us a little about the planning and execution of your research session.

Sarah: The Scientific Session has been one of the highlights of my time on the National Medical Student Committee. We have always worked well as a team to organize all of the abstracts and recruit judges, but this year was particularly challenging and exciting since we changed the format from posters to podium talks. The entire process is a huge endeavor and required a lot of organization to collect all the scores from the judges and respond to applicants in a timely fashion. It was an honor to be on the other side of the podium as a moderator for the first time and it gave me a new perspective for my own podium talks later that week.

Shree: We changed the format of the Starr Scientific Session this year from a poster session to a quickshot podium presentation with the goals of reducing the carbon footprint left by posters, and for medical student and trainee research to reach a larger audience. Among an overwhelming submission of abstracts, the top 20 were selected for the session! We enlisted the help of a large number of women in AWS who were willing to support medical student and trainee research endeavors by reviewing abstracts or judging presentations. The quickshot presentations were only 3 minutes for presentations and questions with both Sarah and I as the moderators at this time. I did not anticipate such a positive response from the conference attendees, but medical students, residents and staff preferred this form of the Starr Research Forum. The opportunity to moderate this panel of innovative research as a medical student was incredible. I am eager to see how this new format progresses next year.

What do you do when you’re #notsurgeoning?

Sarah: I started running when I began my research year and finished my first half marathon this fall. Maybe a marathon is next! I also started Krav Maga recently which is a huge stress relief - it’s also nice to know some self defense tactics. On a calmer note, I love playing the violin and play at the children’s hospital play room every Saturday while they take art classes.

Shree: Practice yoga, go to a boxing class, cook/bake vegan/vegetarian treats, blog, and explore the Cleveland food scene.