The Coat Check

AHA infuses Framingham Heart Study with new purpose

December 2013 brought a much-needed shot in the arm for the nation’s largest and longest-running heart study. With FHS funding cutbacks by NIH which jeopardized decades of ongoing research (detailed previously on our ACO page), the American Hospital Association stepped up to the plate by offering replacement funding to the tune of $30 million. The deal will give AHA clinical researchers access to the genetic samples accumulated by the Framingham Heart Study in an effort to identify reliable genetic predictors of cardiovascular disease (FHS has 25 times as much genetic information on file as compared to what the AHA has so far been able to gather on its own).

It’s important to stop for a moment and recognize that this program needed to re-invent itself in order to build support for carrying on. Faced with a loss of resources from a usual and expected donor, a different value proposition was needed to find alternative funding. This switch of focus is precisely the same principle-in-practice that applications for higher medical education need to consider carefully when applying to medical schools and related programs. Opportunities for patient contact, leadership, and clinical research have both an immediate context as well as a long-term one. There are the specific memories and takeaways of specific experiences, but also the need for reflection in order to translate those experiences into a new setting with broader implications. Thus, when someone has completed any undertaking – for example, building a volunteer program or fundraiser effort – the most important life lessons are the outcomes. Be able to tell someone what did work, and what did not.

Two drawbacks exist regarding this attitude which should be considered carefully. The first trap in terms of seeking this engagement is egocentric thinking – defining the scope of available options on the basis of what you yourself might do. This is helpful, particularly if you had great success, but it tends to limit engagement with others. If you discarded some options as unsuitable based on your personal preference, you limit your opportunities for engagement in the future by failing to acknowledge that you acted in that manner. Others can draw different conclusions from the same evidence and therefore conclude your analysis was incomplete, even if it had not been. This issue can also happen when persons fail to identify all potential options and define a basis for action – if objective criteria were applied and a particular determination of need was arrived it, you should definitely detail that process to your audience so they can understand your rationale, and have confidence in your awareness of all potential options. Just because a particular course of action was not necessary or useful in one context does not mean that it can or should be dismissed out of hand for future, unrelated endeavors.

As you all look ahead to the medical school interview process with both eagerness and a touch of nervousness, be sure that having self-awareness regarding your extracurriculars is the key ‘added value’ that your interviewers are seeking out to include in their incoming class of candidates.

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