in-Training Gives Voice to Tomorrow's Physicians

Vikas Bhatt and Joe Ladowski are the current Editors-in-Chief of in-Training. In addition to their responses below, tomorrow Kidney News Online will present their insights and advice for authors.

Vikas   Bhatt  and Joe  Ladowski are the current Editors-in-Chief of in-Training. In addition to their responses below, tomorrow Kidney News Online will present their insights and advice for authors.

How did in-Training get started?

In April 2012, two medical students at Albany Medical College, Ajay Major and Aleena Paul, noticed that there was no outlet for medical students and newly minted doctors to discuss current events and their thoughts, experiences and concerns about the medical field. The magazine was initially designed to be a primary news source with reporters writing about current events relevant to medical students and to serve as the “agora of the medical student community” but, recognizing the interests of the writers, our founders quickly realized that students also wanted to share their experiences.

Currently the team of 54 editors is headed by Joe Ladowski and Vikas Bhatt and is proud to announce that we have over 260 different writers representing 140 different schools in eight different countries. It has been quite the growth from a team of two in April 2012!

In-Training provides a first-person perspective similar to The Players’ Tribune. Do you and your colleagues think this is otherwise missing from the medical literature?

Prior to in-Training, there was no central location where all medical students could go to publish a piece on any topic relating to the medical student experience, medicine or health policy. While websites like the Student Doctor Network and Kevin MD, as well as publications of organizations like the ACP or medical school literary magazines, publish these types of articles, medical student pieces are generally the exception, and when they do get published, are usually reviewed by residents, attendings, or layman. Further, most of the time, the emphasis of other publications isn’t the medical student perspective, nor do any of them encompass a diverse medium of “acceptable” submissions: poetry, art, spoken word, investigative journalism, researched-opinion pieces etc. Thus, in-Training was born.

Through our magazine, we provide a venue for medical students from every medical school around the world to work with medical student editors to improve their writing and publish everything from well-researched, investigative articles to opinion pieces about various health care topics and medical education, to personal reflections on the wards and on being a medical student. The sheer volume of articles we receive, and the number of readers that visit our website, demonstrate that these are topics and mediums of expression that people want to engage in, read and contribute to – if only there was a place where they could.

Many medical schools do an excellent job in having literary magazines of their own to promote reflection and writing by medical students, but these are institution specific, and isolate the shared experience and common discussion that is so important for the overarching, international medical student community. It is important for medical literature to focus on investigative reporting, but also to celebrate reflection and narratives. It is important to listen to the perspectives of the distinguished scholars and physicians, but also to acknowledge the experiences, aspirations and views of those on the “bottom of the totem pole.” And so, while there are options out there for the first-person medical student perspectives to be shared, they are difficult to navigate, rare and rarely ever peer-reviewed.

How do you maintain consistent quality with such constant turnover?

One of the initial worries with in-Training was whether it could continue to grow as the initial writing staff graduated. Fortunately, it’s a credit to the initial goal of the magazine that new writers keep requesting to be involved. We feel this reflects on the medical community: people want to write but are either too timid or believe that what they have to say isn’t worth saying. We encourage anyone who is interested in writing to submit a piece and stress to our editorial board that writing is a process and we are here to help writers hone their craft.

While we review all submissions that we receive, we do have a peer-review selection process mediated by our managing editor, editorial board and ultimately, the editor-in-chiefs. Thus, while we make every effort to work with students to develop the work they submit, there sometimes comes a point where we have to reject a piece because it either doesn’t align with the expected in-Training quality or mission statement. Ultimately, the quality of the finished piece is thus a combination of effort by the editors and the authors.

What do you all take away from the Editor-in-Chief experience?

Being Editor-in-Chiefs of a magazine like in-Training has been a remarkable experience. As the Chiefs, we get the distinct privilege of reading every piece published on in-Training. Above anything else, this has been the most humbling of responsibilities – the sheer magnitude of writing skill, knowledge, interests, experiences and talents of the global medical student community is extraordinary.

We have heard from those who’ve started their own businesses while in medical school, have read a multiple part series with real interviews of those involved in public health crises like Flint, Michigan, have heard a podcast from someone who writes and edits her own spoken word, have seen brave students talking about the racism and sexism they experience in their education or about their own battles with personal disease and loss. Having to read every one of the pieces we publish has truly left us at awe – our peers have important and relatable lessons and experiences to share.

Best, being the editor-in-chiefs means we get to play an active role, with the help of our editorial board, to assist our peers to develop their writings and to provide them with a venue to share these stories with other medical students around the world. One of the most important things we’ve gained from this privilege is that many valuable lessons can be learned if you just listen: to your patients, to your peers, to the world around you. 

Further, most of the projects that in-Training has executed beyond just the publishing of articles, such as the internship program for first year medical students, have been the direct brain-children of members of our editorial board. Our ability to advertise pieces and recruit team members and writers is directly a result of the work of our social media team. More so, the dedication of our managing editor, Andy, helps the gears of the magazine churn every day.

In essence, the successes and growth of in-Training in the past few years has thus been a combination of the sheer creativity, passion and commitment of the whole in-Training team and the writers and artists that contribute. As the editor-in-chiefs of this amazing team of individuals, we could not emphasize enough the importance of working together in any team, and providing a voice and resources to help every team member bring their own visions to fruition.

In peer-reviewed medical/scientific literature, telling the story is one of the most difficult challenges (as opposed to just presenting data) – what advice would you give authors in that regard?

Albert Einstein allegedly said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” In our opinion, good medical literature is elegant in its simplicity. Often times, the story makes sense in your head but when the words are on paper in the hands of another, they just don’t click. The beauty of our editorial process is that the pieces get two or three sets of fresh eyes on them before they are published. When we read at a piece on in-Training, we look for the answer to four questions that could likely be asked of scientific literature: 1) Why did you look at this topic 2) Why is it important to me? 3) Where’s the evidence for your argument? 4) What does your conclusion mean to me?

Further, here are a few general pieces of advice to keep in mind. Every set of data needs a story, and likewise, every story needs the details that make it compelling. Having one without the other is to have a printer without ink. The story that the data explains or tries to resolve is important, if not more important than the data itself. If you think it is not, why are you collecting the data in the first place? Thus, make sure to share that you’re your readers. Second, we have seen that some of the most successful pieces on in-Training are those that look at hard truths and approach them with unforgiving honesty – reflections that look at our own failings, research that reveals a story not often shared, or explaining the “why” as much as the “what” and the “how.” In this regard, writers must be fearless. If you feel compelled enough to write the story, chances are that the story is compelling enough that people will want to read it.