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Michigan’s Surgery Olympics: More Than Just a Game

The Olympic Games are considered some of the most anticipated sporting events in the world, rotating between winter and summer sports every four years in some of the most culturally rich locations. Arguably just as exciting, Surgery Olympics is an academically stimulating event that occurs yearly in one of the best cities, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In my experience, Surgery Olympics has introduced me to the concept of developing and executing original research projects and has connected me with dedicated mentors, all while having fun with classmates along the way. It has been such an important milestone in my medical school experience and is a program that both students and faculty look forward to every year.

An important concept of academic research and medicine is lifelong learning. There are always new knowledge and methods to be learned with the common goal of improving outcomes for patients. That’s one of the great things about Surgery Olympics: whether a student is starting at square one or has already learned how to construct and publish a vast portfolio of research, this program offers something for everyone.

Surgery Olympics offers incredible opportunities for hands-on experience

Coming into medical school, I had some research experience in a surgical laboratory, but I wanted to learn more about the process of academic writing and how someone can take a novel idea and turn this into work that the community views as valuable. The best place for me to learn this was through Surgery Olympics.

What is Surgery Olympics?
It’s a longitudinal program put on by SCRUBS, which is an interest group that aims to provide mentorship for medical students who are interested in surgery. This initiative is supported by the Department of Surgery and provides students with networking and mentorship with faculty, research and technical skill development, opportunities to bond with fellow classmates and much more.

Does one have to declare that they want to go into Surgery before they can participate in Surgery Olympics?
No! The program typically occurs in the spring/summer of the scientific trunk (M1 year). For many medical students that stage is still too early to know what specialty one might apply into, with lots of soul searching and discovery ahead on the horizon.

This coveted trophy is sought after by Surgical Olympians from the med student to attending level each year.

This is a longitudinal program that lasts the entire summer and is intentionally offered to students after their first year. Students are divided in groups of three to four along with an M4 coach and an attending of a specific subspecialty who serve as mentors. In the past, there has been representation from General Surgery, Minimally Invasive Surgery, Pediatric Surgery, Vascular, Thoracic, Colorectal, Surgical Oncology, Plastics, Hepatobiliary and Advanced GI, Endocrine, Transplant, Urology and many more.

Students typically meet every two weeks over a 14-week period to keep on track with their project. At the very end of the program, students have an opportunity to present their work at the Department of Surgery Grand Rounds. In keeping with the name, there is also a final competition that serves as an opportunity for students to show off the knot tying, suturing and other technical skills they have learned. The winning team gets to take home the prized trophy along with its associated bragging rights.

Other than the fun and games listed above, there are presentations and talks throughout the program delivered by faculty or residents, which I personally found very helpful. Talks could be clinically based or even discuss health and wellness during residency. I also appreciated that the timeline afforded me opportunities to regularly check in with my teammates and mentors. It kept me grounded, focused and excited to keep pushing our project forward.

Michigan medical students learning technical skills that will help them prepare for the annual competition.

I felt compelled to share my reflections on Surgery Olympics because it has been one of the most helpful experiences in my medical school journey. I was placed on the Urology team as an M1, and now I will be applying into that very field. I was extremely fortunate enough to be connected with my mentor, Dr. Kate Kraft, through Surgery Olympics. She has been a constant source of guidance and support throughout my four years at Michigan. It would be hard to imagine my medical school experience without our regular check-in meetings and being able to share my highs and lows with her.

One of the incredible things about the faculty participation is just how excited they are to welcome students onto their research teams and to teach them more about their respective field. It’s important to note that faculty at Michigan Medicine view mentorship as a two-way street, and they gain just as much from mentoring students.

“Surgery Olympics provides a chance for surgical faculty to introduce students to their specialty early in medical school, creating an enriching mentorship opportunity. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have a number of Surgery Olympics students pursue urology as a career – and urology is much better for having them in the field!” – Dr. Kate Kraft

In fact, I think the commitment to mentorship that faculty at Michigan Medicine demonstrate is something that sets this institution apart from all the rest. No matter what field your interests lead you toward, Michigan Medicine is composed of so many powerhouse leaders who want to help you discover your path to your future career in medicine. It can be daunting to make such a big decision, but it is one that we all have to make, and the support along the way has been invaluable. For this reason alone, I am so thankful I took part in Surgery Olympics. As I’ve shared above, the faculty at this incredible institution are so passionate; but don’t just take my word for it, read more from them:

“Surgery Olympics is one of my favorite annual events. It’s the first interaction many of our M1 students will ever have with a surgical faculty. This offers a unique opportunity to not only teach a couple of technical skills and work collectively on a research project, but more importantly a chance to debunk some of the circulating myths about surgeons. It’s a chance to share our own ‘origin stories’ and what fuels our passions, in hopes that it would inspire a young student as they begin their own journey. In return, I am constantly awed by the creative solutions my students come up with to sometimes challenging problems and how they push me to higher levels of empathy and social justice. I’m a better surgeon because of the work I get to do with my students!” – Dr. Gifty Kwakye

Dr. Kwakye is our very own clerkship director for the M2 Surgery and Applied Sciences rotation. Her work and dedication to medical student education speaks for itself, and her passion and positive demeanor inspires students to learn more about the incredible field of surgery. I have early memories of my surgery rotation where I was initially nervous about learning in the OR environment; however, after routinely bumping into Dr. Kwakye in the pre-op area and exchanging a friendly wave or a brief conversation about our days, I felt ready to take on the day’s cases.

In reflecting on my Surgery Olympics experience, I interviewed the Department Chair of Surgery, Dr. Justin Dimick. I asked him what he thinks the importance of this program has on a student’s education and trajectory:

“Academic surgery is about using the scientific process to improve our profession. At Michigan, we strive to pursue a diverse portfolio of scientific discovery, including basic science, education, clinical trials, health systems, organizational culture, and more. The SCRUBS program is intentionally designed to involve medical students in conducting research in one of these areas. For students, this will allow them to start to envision their own career trajectory in academic surgery, where they craft a path to being excellent clinicians and also begin to think about how they might pursue scientific discovery to improve the field of surgery in some way.” – Dr. Justin Dimick

These events also help students hone skills that will prepare them for their surgery, OBGYN, EM and other rotations.

I believe this answer reiterates to just how committed the faculty are in improving the outcomes of medical students as they discover their own path to becoming the best physician they can be.

How can one learn more about SCRUBS?
If you are interested in learning more about SCRUBS and the other opportunities offered by the program, please consider following SCRUBS on Twitter, visiting the homepage or contacting the leadership team by email.

Current SCRUBS Leadership:
Class of 2023: Cameron Harter, Aurelie Tran, Davis Argersinger, Lauren Hoff
Class of 2024: Ally Grossman, Tianyi Wang
Class of 2025: Kailyn Koh, Emily Roney
SCRUBS Directors: Dr. Paige Meyers, Dr. Seth Waits

Connect with faculty on Twitter: Dr. Kate Kraft, Dr. Gifty Kwakye and Dr. Justin Dimick.