Dr. Sujay Kansagra is a pediatric neurologist. He serves as director of the Pediatrics Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and is assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center. He also authored the books Why Medicine?: And 500 Other Questions for the Medical School and Residency Interviews and Everything I Learned in Medical School: Besides All the Book Stuff. He also has a large social media following on Twitter (@medschooladvice), where he provides advice for students.
How did you become interested in becoming a pediatric sleep doctor?
Sleep is a fascinating field of medicine, but is also an area that, unfortunately, has been neglected and ignored for a long time. Even today, our medical training inadequately educates students and residents on sleep disorders. Yet we sleep for a third of our lives, and problems with sleep are incredibly common. These disorders can affect almost any other medical, psychiatric, and behavioral problem. It is a fascinating field that is growing with new research and treatment options.
How did you get involved in writing, and what were your goals in writing these books?
I initially became involved with writing books during medical school at Duke. I was president of my class and had an idea for a class project. We decided to each write a chapter in a book about medical advice for pre-meds. I really enjoyed the process, and it sparked my interest in future writing projects. My goal for my second book, “Everything I Learned in Medical School,” was to give students a glimpse into the world of medicine from the student’s perspective. Medical school is an incredible journey that takes us from college graduate to doctor. I wanted to share stories from this journey with others. After I began developing a large following on Twitter, I had the idea for my third book, “Why Medicine”. A great deal of anxiety centers around the medical school and residency interviews, and this was a common topic of questions I received. I wrote this book to help ease some of this anxiety and help prepare students for the process.
What are two or three of the biggest pieces of advice you would give to incoming medical school students?
My first piece of advice is to enjoy the journey. Medicine is a long road, and the work never seems to end. It is important to take time to enjoy what you are doing at every step. Don’t keep telling yourself I will suffer through life now for a more enjoyable future. Find a balance. Enjoy now.
Second, medical school is probably the last time when you can truly be 100% dedicated to just learning. Don’t keep feeling sorry for yourself when you have a lot of work to do. It is great to be a learner. Once residency starts, you will realize how great it was to be a student.
Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. We hold ourselves to high standards in medicine, and often get down on ourselves if we fall short. We pride ourselves on always knowing the answer. In medicine, it’s difficult to always know the answer, and it is just as important to realize when you don’t know the answer. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
If there are two or three changes you would like to see in the way medical education is currently set up, what would they be?
Learning in the classroom setting is a very inefficient process. We cram for tests for the sole purpose of getting a good grade, only to lose all of that information when we start preparing for the next one. In the future, I hope medical education can focus on more clinically-relevant information. Presenting the information in the clinical context is the best way to learn. Problem-based learning helps with retention of information.
I would also like to see more emphasis on developing skills that make a good doctor. Teaching medical students how to interact with patients, how to build a good patient-doctor relationship, the importance of compassionate care, and the importance of patient-centered care are crucial. We have to learn to treat patients, not problems.
You have been big in using social media, with over 75,000 Twitter followers. What role do you see social media serving in the future of medicine with more and more doctors beginning to use it?
I hope social media gives physicians a stronger voice in change. The world of medicine is in constant flux. Physicians as a group need to be active and develop a more cohesive voice if we are to help contribute to this change.