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Reflections on the 2020-2021 SAC and the MSTP Community

Posted by on Monday, May 24, 2021 in MSTP Workshop News .

by Maxwell Roeske (G3)

During the final Student Advisory Committee (SAC) meeting of the 2019-2020 academic year, an MSTP student noted that it was bizarre to still be meeting virtually. Over one year later (and still meeting virtually…), it’s clear that nobody could have predicted how the last academic year would go. This past year has presented new challenges to the MSTP that have affected students in every class and tested the uniquely strong Vanderbilt MSTP community that is evident in our inter- and intra-class relationships and supportive leadership team. As SAC Chair and SAC Chair-Elect, Natalie and I decided on a simple theme to guide SAC’s mission this year: Community. We hope that we have used the SAC platform to not only maintain, but also build and engage the MSTP community during this unconventional year. Here, I will reflect on our accomplishments and briefly discuss SAC’s plans moving forward.

The primary goal of SAC is to communicate students’ thoughts, feedback, and ideas to the MSTP leadership team and the full student advisory committee, which is made up of members of each MSTP class. Therefore, SAC is an ideal platform to address the challenges raised during an abnormal, virtual year for our program. Every month, the SAC Survey is sent out to the MSTP to solicit student thoughts and feedback. This year, SAC received 20 submissions to the SAC survey, with 10 submissions being from the M1 and M2 classes. Historically, 20 is the lowest number of SAC submissions in an academic year; however, this is consistent with the declining survey submission trend over the last several years (AY 2017-2018: 59 submissions, AY ’18-’19: 38, AY ’19-20: 30). We hope that the declining number of survey responses is reflective of fewer issues to necessitate feedback and change since the survey’s formation in 2017. We are also encouraged that half of the submissions are from M1s and M2s, as this suggests that the perspectives of newly admitted students will continue to drive programmatic change. Here are a few examples of how submissions to the SAC survey had major impacts on the MSTP this year:

  • Changing the curriculum requirements for MSTP M2s to allow for more flexibility on the order and timing of their Step Exams
  • Reallocating MSTP Travel Funds to also cover the cost of study materials, textbooks, or other educational costs for individual students
  • Improving the matching of MSTP M1s with physician-scientists for their continuity clinical experience

A second goal of SAC is to communicate with and support MSTP student-led committees. At each monthly SAC meeting, committees present updates to the SAC representatives of each class and the Leadership Team. In addition to providing feedback and asking questions to the student-leaders, the 2020-2021 SAC also asked how the committee was engaging in community building. One outcome of such discussions occurred when the leaders of the Seminar Series presented to SAC. SAC members noted that they missed the MSTP tradition of gathering before seminar to collect food and mingle with other classmates. To recreate this atmosphere, the Seminar Series leaders began opening the seminar Zoom meeting 15 minutes early for students to gather and have informal discussions.

By reminding each committee about our theme of community, we hoped that the theme would trickle down to committee members and throughout the MSTP. To go beyond simply preaching community, SAC also enacted a variety of programs this year to practice community building. These programs went beyond the typical role of SAC, but Natalie and I thought it was appropriate and necessary given the circumstances of this academic year. Examples include:

  • Facilitating student mentorship between senior and junior MSTP students. The purpose of this initiative was to restore communication between students that was altered due to our virtual interactions (e.g., informal discussions at retreat, talking before seminar)
  • Bringing MSTP families together to sign “Good Luck” cards for the M1s before their EDR exam
  • Partnering with the Wellness Committee to facilitate class-to-class meetings

As SAC Chair, I have been impressed by committees and individuals that have overcome this year’s challenges to continue our MSTP traditions and would argue we have found ways to make our community even stronger than it was before. I would like to thank those who used the SAC survey and encourage everyone to utilize it going forward to drive positive change in the MSTP.

At our retreat this June, Natalie Bennett (G2) will take over as SAC Chair. Natalie has chosen a new theme for next year: Engagement. Her goal with this theme is to encourage students to stay connected and present with each other through MSTP programming, committees, and other opportunities as we come together, whether in-person or virtual. I’m excited to see the role that this theme will play in the MSTP as we work towards the return to “normal.”

Outgoing MSTP SAC Chair