Professor discusses experience upon election to medical organization
Dr. David Livingston, professor and chief of the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), was recently named president-elect of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST), The Daily Targum reported.
AAST promotes public health, education and science for trauma, surgical critical care and emergency general surgery, Livingston said. Like other specialty organizations in medicine, it is multifaceted and helps educate the next generation.
“A lot of these organizations do some of the seminal studies involved in a particular specialty and AAST goes way back,” he said. “In surgery, there’s the American College of Surgeons (ACS), but there’s multiple specialty organizations and they’re getting even more specialized.”
There are similar groups for medical students, such as the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). Organizations like AAST offer student scholarships that allow them to attend conferences, Livingston said, but undergraduates probably do not know much about them.
“I'm sure there are some undergrads and some people that know they want to be an orthopedist or a neurologist, so they may start getting involved as a student,” he said. “But a lot of these organizations are specialty related. Most medical students have very little idea what they want to do going into medical school, and that probably changes too. It's the rare student who says, ‘I'm going to be a cardiologist, I'm going to be a cardiologist,’ and ends up a cardiologist.”
Livingston said that undergraduates are appropriately naïve. People only think about organizations like AAST when they are in medical school, if not residency.
Contrary to what undergraduate students may think, medical school is just the beginning, he said.
“I usually ask my own medical students, ‘What can you do with an MD degree?’ You can do absolutely nothing with an MD degree,” he said. “Industry doesn't want you. You can't get a license. The only thing a medical degree is good for is to get some sort of residency.”
Livingston was part of a six-year medical program with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Albany Medical College (AMC). After his first two years of medical school, he started figuring out what he was interested in, he said.
“I got out on the wards and my first rotation was internal medicine. I loved internal medicine,” he said. “Then I did my psychology rotation and I didn't like it quite as much. Then I did my surgery rotation and realized that a lot of the stuff I liked in the medical rotation was acute care and surgery. I also had an amazing resident, and you will be inspired by the people you work with.”
After his third rotation, Livingston decided he wanted to do surgery and that the rest of his third year in medical school focused on that. During his fourth year, with more elective time, he did more rotations in surgery and critical care even though he originally thought he would go into neurosurgery, he said.
“(AMC) offered me a spot in August of my fourth year of medical school for neurosurgery and I thought about it, but I'd been up the capital for six years,” he said. “I do think I like general surgery a little more, but I've always liked neurology and neurotrauma, so that's what I do now. I got into surgical residency and once I did, I worked really hard and somewhere around the third or fourth year, I said ‘I don't like this, I don't like that.’ But I liked trauma and critical care, so that's how that came about.”
Exposure during medical school gives students a brief overview of a lot of specialties, Livingston said. The advantage is that even within every specialty, there are a lot of options.
“My college and medical school roommate ended up in pediatrics, and then he gravitated toward pediatric critical care. We have more in common with each other across specialties than he has with his pediatric endocrinologist, than I have with my breast surgeon. Our third friend went into internal medicine and he did pulmonary critical care, so we all ended up in really the same place in three different specialties,” he said.
To take advantage of these options, medical students have to work hard, he said.
“Work hard, get good grades. Seriously. You'll provide yourself with the greatest choice in residency,” Livingston said. “If you're at the bottom of the class, unfortunately, you will probably limit your ability to be a certain kind of physician. That's the dirty secret.”
As president-elect of AAST, Livingston will balance his roles at NJMS the same way he has been balancing everything else in his career for 32 years, he said.
“You make the time. There's a lot of after-hours stuff, there's a lot of other parts,” Livingston said. “You manage to do it. This is an important role and you just fit it in.”
Livingston said the organization is representative of his career. He has presented papers, done research and educated people for the organization because it is for his specialty and reflects his patient population.
“I never expected it. I think it’s the culmination of a lot of things in my career and I’m very honored,” he said.
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