A STARS-Studded Week: Reflections from a Medical Student

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It has been some time since Kidney Week 2018, and I think I have finally managed to remove the glittering sand from Coronado Beach from my shoes. I am a second-year medical student at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and I was given the opportunity to attend the American Society of Nephrology annual conference in San Diego this year through the Kidney STARS program. Since it was my first time attending this national meeting, I was a little nervous and did not know what to expect. At first, I felt a little bit small and intimidated walking the halls of the Convention Center alongside eminent scholars in the field. However, Dr. Mark Okusa’s opening plenary address was all it took to transform that fear into a feeling of awe and inspiration. Dr. Okusa would be the first person of many that week to impress me with their passion and enthusiasm for the field of Nephrology.

Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory

You may be wondering how I, a medical student, ended up interested in this field and attending Kidney Week. I was first introduced to nephrology by my research mentor, Dr. Devasmita Dev.  She spoke to me so passionately about chronic kidney disease education and prevention that I committed to working with her immediately. Given my interest in Nephrology, I was also fortunate enough to be a part of the Kidney Tutored Research and Education for Kidney Scholars (TREKS) ASN initiative at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. Through this experience, I learned about renal physiology and research alongside other medical students and encountered the same enthusiasm and fervor for the field that I had seen in my mentor.

Kidney STARS: TREKS Group #3

At Kidney Week 2018, I was welcomed warmly by mentors, colleagues, and even strangers. Prior to arriving, Kidney STARS participants were connected with their respective faculty and fellow mentors along with other group participants. I was part of TREKS group #3 and met my group at the welcome breakfast where we kicked off Kidney Week together. Our faculty mentor’s genuine enthusiasm and excitement when she met with people she had studied nephrology with, or with leaders in the field was infectious, and I could feel myself eagerly anticipating conference events that I knew nothing about. My group also included a fellow mentor and another fellow Kidney TREKS participant. Together, we attended plenary sessions, visited different poster and education sessions, and of course took several pictures to try to complete the photo challenge.

One of my favorite activities at Kidney Week was the Fellows in Training (FIT) Bowl, which was a competition between fellows at different training sites to accurately diagnose various complex renal conditions. First, I was really impressed by their prowess in histopathology, something that I personally struggle with as a medical student. Second, the fellows and the competition moderators all seemed relaxed, confident, and generally happy to be there. It was clear to me that they loved the field and were well on their way to mastery. Another part of Kidney Week that I enjoyed was the feedback that I received on my own poster. I presented a poster about primary care practices regarding nutritional prevention of chronic kidney disease. As a medical student, I was so convinced that no one would visit my poster location that I preemptively dubbed it “the sad corner.” I could not have been more wrong! To my surprise, physicians and scientists from around the world took the time to stop and discuss my poster. Far from critiquing my methods, many conference attendees were interested in my results in the context of the population demographics of southwestern Virginia. The conversations I had showed me that people in the field of Nephrology are lifelong learners and are motivated by personal interest and curiosity.

As a second-year student, I do not yet know what the future will hold regarding my choice of specialty. I do know, however, that if I enter the field of Nephrology, I will be widely supported by mentors in the field. The Kidney TREKS program and the national meeting gave me exposure to the scope of research possibilities in the field, and I would strongly recommend this program to any medical student who is interested in renal physiology. Next year’s application cycle opens on the ASN website in December. I cannot wait for next year’s Kidney Week and to see what the years to come will hold!

Post by: Manavi Bhagwat
Medical Student, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

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