Introduction: Early exposure to neurosurgery is limited in the traditional medical school curriculum. Students exposed in their preclinical years are able to define their goals for matching into neurosurgery earlier in their medical career. Preventing loss of interest or switching to another specialty later may develop more competitive and informed applicants to residency programs. We hypothesized that preclinical exposure to neurosurgery would increase factual knowledge and interest in pursuing neurosurgery residency.
Methods: We designed a 5-session course on neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine offered in the spring of the second year. Sixteen students were enrolled in the course, which ran during January and February of 2017. Each session was composed of either a lecture or a lecture plus skills lab. We conducted pre- and post-course surveys gauging degree of interest and opinions about neurosurgery. Each week, there was also a 10-question fact based quiz before and after the lecture presentation. The survey responses were used as qualitative measures of interest in pursuing a neurosurgical career, while the quizzes were benchmarks of practical knowledge of neurosurgical topics.
Results: There was no significant change in the average rating of student interest in pursuing neurosurgery as a career. Fewer students rated neurosurgery highly (= 8/10 interest level); however, those who did, expressed an increase of interest from their pre-course rating. The knowledge-based quizzes revealed a significant increase in the students' overall score (p=0.04).
Conclusions: Early exposure can assist students in making an important decision regarding competitive surgical subspecialties such as neurosurgery. We found that while fewer students demonstrated high interest following the course, those who did had a marked increased interest in pursuing neurosurgery. At the same time, the opportunity to learn about neurosurgical techniques may provide students with a foundation of knowledge before moving into higher levels of their medical education.
Patient Care: Neurosurgery as a field benefits from recruiting the best and brightest medical students. Increasing interest in the specialty and/or retaining interest among interested students may increase the quality and dedication of neurosurgery residents long-term. Development of strong neurosurgery interest in medical schools may also increase research productivity and lead to improved patient care/outcomes in the future.
Learning Objectives: By the conclusion of this session, participants should be able to:
1) Be able to discuss the impact of a hands-on neurosurgery elective in the preclinical years on career choice and preparation.
2) Discuss the effects of early exposure to neurosurgery on medical student interest in the field and factual neurosurgical knowledge.
3) Discuss medical student beliefs about neurosurgery residency and practice.