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SIGs, Literature, and Medicine

The IU School of Medicine offers a wide variety of Student Interest Groups. These SIGs are student-led initiatives that cover a wide range of medically-relevant topics. There are SIGs for all the major specialties: Internal Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, etc. There are community-oriented SIGs such as the Student Outreach Clinic. Other groups focus on career skills not taught in the classroom, such as medical entrepreneurship and business. Finally, policy-focused SIGs raise awareness and promote change on important issues, such as Medical Students for Choice and the Gay-Straight Medical Alliance. All of these groups enhance medical education at IUSM by enabling like-minded students to meet and discuss important issues that are not covered in our curriculum.

I have attended meetings of many, if not most, of the IUSM SIGs over the past 3 years. They are a terrific way to develop new interests. For instance, I have a newfound appreciation of the need for entrepreneurship in medicine, and the Global Health SIG has heightened my awareness of the worldwide disparities in medical care. I like to think that sheer curiosity would prompt me to attend these meetings – even without the promise of a free lunch.

I confess, however, that I do have a favourite: the Literature & Medicine SIG. This group, in its 5th year, meets monthly to discuss a book in the context of our future careers in medicine. At the beginning of each semester all IUSM students are invited to vote for two books—one fiction and one non-fiction—that the group will read that term. Each book is discussed over 2-3 meetings, to limit the monthly reading load to ~100 pages. Nonetheless, the text serves only as a loose guide for our discussion and students who haven’t read all (or any!) of that month’s section are still encouraged to participate. Our discussions are student-led and their focus may sway widely. Yet our ineffable faculty sponsor, Dr Richard Gunderman, never fails to unite our thoughts in a coherent final word.

During yesterday’s meeting we discussed Atul Gawande’s Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. The book offers a roadmap to improved medical care via three themes: diligence, doing right, and ingenuity. One member drew an interesting parallel between physician-assisted suicide and physician participation in prisoner executions. Are they equivalent? Is it rational to support one but not the other? Does the whole profession need to take a firm position, or can individuals decide on their own whether to participate in each? These are difficult questions and it is important for future physicians to dedicate time to them. However, all too often they are overlooked in favour of our formal curriculum. By exploring these important issues, I believe that the Literature and Medicine SIG enables its members to become better and more caring doctors.

Next month the group tackles the final part of Better: ingenuity. I extend an invite to all of you to take part. I’ll post the date in the comments once it is set.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Stefan Tarnawsky

MS4 MD/PhD Student. Going into Internal Medicine; interested in Heme/Onc. Bread baker, bonsai artist, aspiring astronomer.