What does the word ‘connection’ mean to you? To many, myself included, it’s probably something mundane – perhaps it makes you think of waiting, on a train station or at an airport, in the limbo between travelling and being somewhere you actually want to be.
To some, perhaps it means something more abstract; the clasp on a necklace, or the place where the giving set attaches to the cannula. As an early career medic, your mind may not immediately jump to ‘connections’ being a vital part of securing opportunities in the way that early career members of other professions may be aware of the benefits of being connected and having connections in their career field.
However, as I discovered at the latest Medics.Academy Fellowship workshop, networking and making contacts can be of vital importance to medics, particularly those seeking opportunities outside of traditional training pathways, or those close to the beginning of their careers.
The Clinical Fellowship Programme
The Medics.Academy Fellowship Programme is made up of medical students from across the country who work on various projects within the Medics.Academy group. Many of us are heavily involved in researching and writing content for the Medics.Academy online learning platforms. As part of the programme, Fellows have access to a monthly series of workshops, run by senior Medics.Academy staff led by Johann Malawana, CEO of Medics.Academy. These workshops aim to cover key skills for medics that are otherwise taught at medical school; for example, leadership, entrepreneurship, and, in their most recent workshop, networking.
The workshop, this month led by Johann himself, opened by addressing the very issue discussed in the opening paragraph – the widely held assumption that by entering medical school – implying entry to the medical profession, and subsequent foundation and specialty training posts – students and trainees have ‘opted out’ of using networking and connections to secure opportunities in the way that our colleagues in professions such as business, law, and the creative sector do. With such defined training pathways, standard training a must – and therefore a given. For any medical professional, the emphasis on getting your face and name into influential circles is less marked. This is compounded by the fact that networking is a skill that rarely appears in formal teaching amongst the anatomy and physiology lectures that are the hallmark of early medical studies.
What Medics Can Do to Network More Effectively
The Fellows were encouraged to engage with the online networking tools so beloved by entrepreneurial or creative peers; particularly that of LinkedIn. The importance of making tangible online connections and keeping profiles up to date and professional was emphasised. Helpfully, the workshop doubled as an opportunity for Fellows to have professional headshots taken for social media use.
As well as making virtual connections, strategies for networking in person were also discussed; including tips on approaching potential connections at events like conferences. The group shared and reflected on experiences they had networking at such events and times they had been more or less successful in engaging with key players. We were also encouraged to consolidate in person with networking opportunities by sending follow-up emails or LinkedIn connections.
As well as practical tips on conversation starters and approaching potential contacts, the Fellows also discussed attitudes towards networking; it was suggested that in order to be a more successful networker, or ‘super connector,’ healthy attitudes towards peers and senior colleagues must be adopted and developed. Agreeableness, generosity and a ‘pay it forward’ attitude not only help healthcare professionals work together in their day to day jobs, but can also go a long way in ensuring connections made through networking efforts remembering you in a positive way.
The Fellowship workshop not only taught those in attendance the importance of networking and introduced some strategies for making and maintaining meaningful connections, both online and in person, but also taught the Fellows another valuable facet of being involved with the programme: the opportunity to meet and network with one another. The Fellows are medical students from all years of the programme, and many different medical schools, all of whom bring different knowledge, experience, and opportunities to the table. Through the programme, Fellows not only make connections with senior clinicians who support and lead their projects, but also with our peers – who, as we learned from the latest workshop, are the most important connections of all.