Fourth-year Gabriella-Salome Armstrong is in the final stretch of medical school. She felt it was essential to help the next class of students while advice was fresh on her mind and offer a realistic perspective to help them navigate the journey, “especially going into the clinical years.”

Armstrong and dozens of other fourth-year medical students at the UK College of Medicine recently volunteered to teach Entrustment in Clinical Medicine (ECM), a third-year course between clerkships that is part of the Application Phase of the Kentucky Integrated Curriculum.

The event was a multi-campus effort among Lexington and Northern Kentucky Campus students and faculty to help fourth-year students practice mentorship skills while connecting third-year students with upperclassmen.

Utilizing the College of Medicine’s state-of-the-art simulation equipment, fourth-year students worked with third-years on improving skills such as suturing, knot-tying, IV and nasopharyngeal (NG) tube placement, and more. Fourth-years then judged the third years’ level of comfortability with each task and provided tips through the process.

“We know there is evidence out there that peer mentorship is important to the success of our students,” said Sarah Vick, MD, assistant professor of medicine and ECM co-course director. “Our goal was to utilize the expertise of our fourth-year students in hopes they could connect with third-years in a way our faculty cannot.”

Fourth-year Tyler Shimfessel said teaching ECM was not only a chance to disseminate his own knowledge. It also provided third-years a “judgment-free zone” to learn from his experiences, offer advice, and answer questions about third-year including applications, research opportunities, and career planning.

Meanwhile, third-year Olly Ezenagu found the experience beneficial because it gave her the optimal time to chat with upperclassmen while not being entirely dependent on faculty or staff schedules. She said she left the experience so confident from the skill-building, that she successfully inserted an NG tube on a patient during the first week of her clinical rotation.

Fourth-year Daniel Cooper said he worried that classes below him missed crucial opportunities for in-person engagement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he was surprised at how comfortable many third-years were with various tasks, remembering that many had already gained experience in the medical field by helping at vaccine clinics, volunteering, or working in health care-related jobs.  

As for advice for third-years, Cooper emphasized the importance of asking questions. “The only reason I did not know something in medical school is because I did not ask the right person the right question,” he said, adding to take advantage of the “unique opportunity to learn from some of the best minds and teachers, particularly in our clinical rotations.”

Shimfessel encourages third-years to find a mentor through interest groups, attendings on rounds, house advisors, or with help from the administration. “These mentors can help discuss career goals, what blocks to choose during M4, whom to ask for letters of recommendation, and how to apply for residency,” he said.

Armstrong’s advice is to enjoy the final years of medical school, to pay attention to the most exciting rotations, and take advantage of each opportunity. “Some of the rotations you do in third year you will never have the chance to do again once you commit to a specialty,” she said. “Even if it’s a rotation you have no interest in, use it as an opportunity to learn how to become a good intern when the time comes.”