When he’s not on the wards as a third-year medical student, Ajay Major manages an online global magazine for medical students, advocates for single-payer healthcare, helps edit major journals like Virtual Mentor and The Bellevue Literary Review, and consults for Medstro and DrSmarts.
Major is in the Leadership in Medicine Program, an eight-year combined BS/MD/MBA program with Albany Medical College, Union College and Union Graduate College. He also co-founded in-Training in 2012, and since then the student-managed online magazine has published over 500 articles by 200 medical students in seven different countries. Ajay believes in a growing need for physician advocacy and he hopes that journalism will help fill that need. We caught up with him to ask about his personal inspiration and his advice for future doctors in training.
Q: As a medical student, what inspired you to start the online magazine in-Training, which you dub the “agora” of the medical student community? What makes it unique?
Before we launched in-Training in 2012, there were no publications that were by medical students and for medical students. We originally thought it was going to be more like a newspaper, with students reporting on the news of their individual institutions. But when we went live, we got a huge onslaught of articles in the realm of humanism in medicine: talking about the first day in gross dissection, the first patient dying, or the stresses of having a family in medical school. We found that we had built a publication that reached out to this medical student audience that so desperately wanted to write. We call it the “agora” of the medical student community, which is the Greek term for the intellectual center of a village. It’s a place where medical students around the world can gather and write about these issues that are so important to our future as healers.
Q: You have a finger on the pulse of today’s medical schools, so I think you’ll be well equipped to answer this next question: What’s unique about the medical students of your generation?
I like to call our version of medicine “medicine plus.” Medicine plus journalism, medicine plus advocacy, medicine plus art… compared to generations of past physicians, today we’re not satisfied with just studying medicine. We really want to know more about the world in order to better help our patients.
Q: What’s your personal “medicine plus”?
One of my big successes this past year was holding a medical student advocacy day in Albany, New York with the Physicians for a National Health program and Physicians for Human Rights. We invited 70 medical students from across New York to the state capital, set up meetings with legislators, and had a press conference. I spoke on the need for medical student advocacy and the importance of our voices. It was incredible to see medical students come together wearing their white coats to speak with representatives and find they were actually being listened to.
Q: Is it easy to rally medical students to get politically involved?
It’s much easier than you would think. I think this reflects a growing restlessness in the medical student community surrounding the social problems we witness every day, and the power of technology and social media to help us express that. A great example was the “white coat die-in.” Through Facebook and other social media, hundreds of medical students around the country organized in this synchronized protest against racism and violence. It’s something that we, as a generation of physicians-in-training, have never seen before: a demonstration of that size arranged totally through the internet, as well as the media coverage it received.
Q: You’re a medical student balancing third-year rotations with all these other things – you must be crazy busy. What’s your advice about balance for med students who have “medicine-plus” interests but are worried about the time commitment?
It’s all about time management, as cliché as that sounds, but a kind of weighted time management. You have to know when it’s time to put the rest aside and really hunker down. I think that the first and second years of med school are a great time to start your advocacy and get your feet wet in what you’re interested in, since you have a little more flexibility. But for me, when it was time to study for Step 1, I consciously put it all aside to focus. Don’t be afraid to focus on both the clinical and non-clinical sides of your career, but do it smartly.
This post is part of our new series of Q&As with “The Activist Generation” – a group young medical students, doctors and residents who hope to change the face of medicine as we know it. Do you know someone who’d be a perfect fit for this series? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get them involved, too.
Vidya is the founder of Doctors Who Create (doctorswhocreate.com), which brings together people who want to change the culture of medicine to reward and encourage creativity. She is a first-year medical student at the University of Pennsylvania and is passionate about using the power of innovation and storytelling to improve clinical care.
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