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Networking as a medical student – Why and How

Networking is not something that came naturally to me as an individual or as a medical student. I always viewed ‘Networking’ as an activity, or a tool, that people used purely for selfish reasons. An activity that, I thought, dripped nepotism, preferential treatment and encouraged people to offer opportunities and jobs for non-meritocratic reasons.

However, after 5 years of medical school, I can safely say I’ve seen the error of my assumptions. This networking post is not for entrepreneurs, businesspeople or those looking for their next professional lead. It’s for students starting university and looking to understand how the people they interact with over the next 3-10 years will go on to shape their experiences.

Networking is generally thought off as business/entrepreneurial activity. It is often defined as:

“Businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships business relationships and to recognise, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures”

Networking is not a one-size-fits-all term, it does not have to relate to business opportunities, and so it is unfair to dismiss it as all-bad. All of us have a personal network, which can be thought as being made up of:

  • who you know
  • what you know about them
  • who knows you
  • what they know about you
  • what are you learning together

In fact, there are several types of network that are absolutely essential for surviving medical school:

  • A Social Network – This is fairly obvious I hope! This is made up of all of the people you will meet socially at university, and you will likely find that it rapidly grows to include many of the medical students in your cohort, the other people on your halls and students you meet through socials and societies.
  • A Personal Support Network – It’s really important to create a network of support around yourself in order to cope with the stresses of medical school. This can be made up of your family, your friends (from before University and made during), your colleagues and your peers.
  • An Academic Support network – This is relatively easy to start building, as your university will provide you with a tutor when you start your course. This network may grow to include project supervisors, lecturers, anatomy demonstrators and doctors.

Having strong “networking” skills does not mean being able to convince others to grant you opportunities you may not deserve. Networking skills are many of the same skills we are all told to be proud of as medical students – good communication, teamwork, remembering facts (about people not anatomy, but it’s the same skill!), organisation (adding people on social media, keeping a record of who you meet).

Why should you build a network in medical school?

The networking skills you pick up in medical school will serve you well for the remainder of your professional career, and in your personal life. The networks themselves have benefits that extend beyond their obvious uses:

  • Social Network – You will study medicine alongside your peers for a minimum of 4 years and will progress through your careers together. Many of your peers will become your colleagues and professional friends.
  • Personal Support Network – Medical school is hard. Being a junior doctor in the NHS is also hard. It will be equally important to have a support network as a doctor.
  • Academic Support Network – These individuals will go on to supervise, support and facilitate your professional development. This is primarily where opportunities for research, publication, audits and quality improvement projects can start in medical school, and will go on to shape your academic career.

So how do you start networking?

Each type of network needs to be nurtured in a different way. How an individual chooses to grow and maintain their networks is a very personal choice and will come down largely to how you choose to interact with the people you meet. I’ve outlined below some of the steeps I have actively take to grow the three networks mentioned above.

  • Social Network – In the first year of university my social circle consisted mainly of people on my course, my flatmates in university halls and the members of the King’s Swimming and Waterpolo societies. At King’s there is a big emphasis on playing sports and joining societies. For many students, particularly in their earlier years, this is where the majority of their social interactions will take place. My advice for making friends at university is to join a sports team (even if you have never played the sport before) and go out on socials! Academic societies can be good for this too, but on the whole sports teams will meet more often. In my first two years I trained 4 or 5 times a week with the waterpolo team. Having so much contact really forces you to make strong bonds with people.
  • Personal Support Network – as a medical student it is a good idea to try to make friends with some people in your cohort. That way, if you find yourself struggling with the workload or falling behind, you can ask your peers for support. You will also find that a lot of people face the same difficulties throughout their time at university. Having peers in your support network can mean that you can ask the advice of someone who has been through the same thing.
  • Academic Support Network – as mentioned above, this network will largely be made up of professionals and academic staff at your university. It is these individuals’ job to provide you with pastoral and academic support. As such, this is a very easy network to start building. Your university will start building it for you! As you progress through university you can build and maintain this network by maintaining contact with the various tutors, supervisors and mentors you work with. A great way to do this is adding them on LinkedIn.

I hope you have found this brief guide to networking as a medical student useful! Feel like starting to grow your network now? Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter!

I’d really advise you start building your networks now! Make a LinkedIn profile, make sure you stay in contact with your friends and be sociable. Starting is as simple as that. Remember to sign up to my newsletter to receive weekly updates, recommendations, tips and tricks!

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Connor is a medical student at King’s College London. For the 19/20 academic year he is undertaking an intercalated iBSc in Imaging Sciences, also at King’s.

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Reflection: Why and How?

26th July 2020