Leaders in Medical Education: Dr. Kelly Thibert, National President of American Medical Student Association

NSU Headshot croppedDr. Thibert is honored and excited to serve as National President of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). She spends the year spearheading the organization ensuring that the mission and goals are upheld. Her goals include continuing to advance AMSA’s work on healthcare access, the opioid epidemic and understanding of osteopathic medicine. She will also continue to engage members in advocacy and leadership on both the local and national levels. She is excited to work with members at every level of training and to meet all of these future leaders of medicine along the way.

Dr. Thibert is a recent graduate of Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine, where she obtained her Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine and Masters of Public Health. Dr. Thibert received her undergraduate degree in Molecular and Microbiology and minor in Women’s Studies, at the University of Central Florida. During her undergraduate career she became heavily involved with AMSA on both a local and national level. Now in her ninth year of involvement with AMSA she still believes that the AMSA family helped her to realize that she could combine her love of medicine and humanism into one amazing career.

 

How did you decide on a career in medicine?
My journey into medicine started in a strange way. When I was in high school I signed up for Anatomy and Physiology. That year we were dissecting things like fetal pigs, cow’s eyeballs and we finished the year with the dissection of a cat. I enjoyed learning about the anatomy and physiology so much that my teacher would provide additional dissection opportunities for me during lunch. Talking to him one day during class I asked, “what kind of a job would someone have if they wanted to dissect for a living?” He chuckled at me and said he’d never been asked that before, but proceeded to answer me. He said, “Have you ever thought of becoming a medical examiner?” I had no idea what that was and I suppose the expression on my face showed that. He told me to go home and watch an episode of Dr. G Medical Examiner. I took this as a homework assignment and did just that. I came back the next day, in awe of the work that a medical examiner does, the mysteries they solve, and how they help the families and friends of the deceased. I wanted to be like Dr. G. I asked my teacher what one has to do to become a medical examiner, his response? “Go to medical school.” I started asking him a bit more about medical school and hearing him describe it I knew that was my future. I decided in tenth grade, during anatomy and physiology that I would become a Doctor.

 

Can you describe your journey to serving as the National President of AMSA?
My journey to AMSA is one that started 9 years ago. When I was a pre-med at the University of Central Florida I realized that my classmates had all of the answers to questions like: what courses do I have to take to get into medical school, what are they looking for in medical school applicants, what is the timeline for the application process? Finding out that I knew next to nothing about applying to medical school I decided that I needed to join an organization, perhaps one that helped their members get into medical school – insert AMSA here. I joined my local chapter at UCF and it was everything I needed. They gave me community service opportunities, pathways to research, ways to organize programming on my campus. But then I found out that there was a national organization. I went to their website and saw that they were about to host the “Women’s Empowerment Institute”. I applied for the scholarship to attend and was selected. I was the only pre-med at the institute, surrounded by physicians, residents, and medical students. I was in awe of these women. They were smart, they were passionate, they were leaders, and they were who I wanted to be. It was at this institute that I really got a sense of what AMSA was – which was not what my local chapter represented at all. I was inspired and wanted to become one of these women. So upon returning to my home institution I spoke to our leadership about how different we were from the National organization. Their response? “Run for President of our chapter and change it”.  I had only been in AMSA for a few months – but I did just that. I served as a local chapter President for two years and in doing so, learned even more about the national organization. I attended my first National AMSA Convention in Washington, DC and was blown away by the level of engagement, enthusiasm, activism and passion of those in attendance. I wanted to be with these people, to lead with these people. I ran from the floor that year and became a national leader – a Pre-Medical Regional Director. From there it was history, I joined and led my local AMSA chapter in medical school. I kept pursuing different positions in national AMSA leadership, so that I could get a sense of all aspects of the organization. And then, in my third year of medical school I decided run for President-elect. I am so happy to have been a member of AMSA for 9 years now. It has truly given me the skills and tools necessary to be a better physician.

 

What are your goals for the organization during your tenure?
During my tenure I am helping to focus our members on our three national advocacy strategies: women’s health, LGBT health and health care for all. It is my hope that our membership will continue to increasingly use their voices to speak up about issues in medicine that others do not always lend their voices to. AMSA is historically known for our advocacy efforts and I am proud to lead this organization in those efforts.

I will also be working on the exposure of our membership to Osteopathic medicine. As a new osteopathic physician I still come across questions such as “what is a DO?” or “Can you do everything an MD can do?” I want to dispel the myth that DO’s are not equivalent to MD’s and show our members that there are multiple routes in the field of medicine.

 

If you could change 1-2 things about medical education (premedical, undergraduate, graduate, continuing) what would they be and why?
If there were three things I would change about medical education they would be the following:

  1. The culture of medicine in which we teach trainees; through humiliation and ridicule. This has historically been how we have seen physicians-in-training taught throughout their careers. Made to look bad in front of their peers, yelled at for miniscule issues and the list goes on. We often see physicians-in-training afraid to speak up, to answer questions for fear of being wrong and as if they have no one to turn to when these instances do occur, because of the fear instilled in them by this method of training. AMSA would like to see medical training that allows students to anonymously and safely report instances of abuse and humiliation from physicians, nurses, and housestaff with the expectation that a committee or board would also be empowered to take appropriate action. Furthermore we would love to see this be a non-issue, something that we do not need to ensure that there is a place for students to turn to anymore because it has ceased to happen.
  2. Resident duty hour regulations as adopted by the ACGME are currently insufficient to ensure maximized patient and resident safety and health. AMSA will work toward the implementation of regulations, including those at the federal level, which will regulate resident work hours with the intent of providing a better standard of care for all patients and more humane working conditions for residents. These regulations should be based on the most current research on sleep, learning and patient and resident physician safety.
  3. We need to address the issue of student debt as well. Because of the astronomical debt that medical trainees are accruing, we are seeing many choose to not pursue medicine, or if they do – they tend to specialize, so that they can potentially pay off their debt. When we look at these debt rates, we also start to see our physician workforce become even less diversified because of the constraints these fees may place on those aiming to pursue healthcare as a career. Equitable access to medical education is essential to guarantee diversity of the physician workforce. Medicine will not be able to provide for the health needs of our complex society if it does not reflect society’s demographics.

 

What advice would you give to current medical students?
My one piece of advice I would offer to current medical students would be to find something outside of your medical curriculum that you are passionate about and pursue it. Whether it’s being an AMSA member and advocating on issues, running, being involved in CrossFit, cooking, writing poetry, creating art, anything really. Continue to do what you’re passionate about – make the time for it. Staying involved in AMSA throughout medical school was something that really helped me when times got tough. It was my outlet, my safe space and where I could go if I needed a reminder about why I had just spent 16 hours in a library and had not spoken a word to anyone that day. Making time for yourself and what you are passionate about will be vital to ensuring that you address your mental health. Let’s face it, medical school is hard, having these outlets and areas of passion outside of medicine will keep you grounded, happy and will give you something to look forward to after that 16-hour study day.

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