Attending your first national medical conference as a medical student can seem daunting. Once you get to the meeting, you will find there are multiple clinical sessions running concurrently, a large exhibit hall with industry sponsors, procedural demonstrations, and rapid fire presentations bringing out the latest results in vascular research. If you want to get the most out of the National Vascular Annual Meeting (VAM) of the Society of Vascular Surgery (SVS) as a medical student, here's my advice: you're there to learn through immersion so just take a breath and dive in.
Before the conference:
Get an idea of which days you will be able to attend. If you think you will be able to attend the entire conference, and you know far enough in advance (before the scholarship deadlines), apply for the SVS Travel Scholarship. They may cover your registration costs or registration and a travel stipend. While they state applicants are less likely to get the Travel Scholarship if you are presenting a poster at the conference, this did not keep me from receiving it. If you aren't attending under the benefit of a travel scholarship, budget accordingly (registration alone is several hundred dollars). It is not crucial to stay at the conference hotel so if you are looking to save money on the trip overall you can stay nearby or share a room with other students attending the conference.
At the conference:
Get organized. You will be provided with a book that contains a detailed schedule of all events when you go to the registration desk. First flip to at the program for medical students. You can fill in the rest of your schedule with the seminars, talks, and demonstrations that are the most interesting to you or that you have never had exposure to before.
Attend the vascular simulation session for medical students and residents. This event is earmarked for SVS scholarship awardees, however they may have a few openings either in advance (email the coordinators for the medical student program) or on site as the session begins. It doesn't hurt to ask, and the simulations range from vascular suturing to high-tech EVAR simulations. It takes place the first afternoon of the conference.
Present a poster on your vascular research. As a medical student (especially if you are a first or second year), you will be in the minority at this conference. And that's okay! Presenting your research next to a general resident hoping to get into a vascular fellowship is an opportunity to learn more about why someone already headlong into their surgical training wants to become a vascular surgeon. It is also a great chance to network with program directors and vascular surgeons walking through the poster session who may be interested in your research.
Explore the exhibits. Since you are a medical student, industry is not trying to sell you on their products (but you can still drink the free coffee!). Touring the exhibit hall is key to understanding the wide variety of devices utilized in the procedures undertaken in vascular practice. If you have a faculty mentor who will give you a tour covering the different kinds of vascular devices and imaging techniques this experience will be especially meaningful - for the VSIG at VCU our mentor Dr. Amendola does this with VCU medical students at every VAM.
ATTEND THE RESIDENCY FAIR: Finally a chance for you to speak to vascular program directors and vascular residents face to face. While you may not be on the verge of applying to residency - maybe you are not even sure yet that vascular surgery is for you - attending the fair is a great way to find out what the away rotation process entails for medical students, start getting familiar with the programs as a whole, talk candidly to residents about the training they are receiving, and show early interest in the specialty to program directors.
After the conference: It is helpful to organize the flyers etc you accumulated from the conference and residency fair right away. Now if you're a rising second year - its time to hit the books for Step One!
James M. Dittman
VSIG at VCU President 2018-2019
VCU School of Medicine Class of 2022