MEDICAL STUDENT COLUMN Taking the Plunge: My First AUA Annual Meeting

By: Sasha Vereecken, BScN, RN, Saint James School of Medicine, Anguilla | Posted on: 19 Sep 2023

With encouragement from my mentor, I decided this year to take the plunge and attend AUA2023. As an international medical graduate from a small Caribbean school, getting onto a plane, traveling across the country, and walking into a massive room where you don’t know anyone can be daunting. However, attending AUA2023 was one of the best decisions I have made in my journey to becoming a future urologist. From attending enlightening poster presentations to interacting with professionals in the field of urology, the AUA Annual Meeting felt like attending the Super Bowl of Urology. Personally, I was able to confirm my love for the field, gain a deeper sense of the role of a urologist, and expand my current base of knowledge.

Upon arriving at the main Science & Technology Hall, I was immediately impressed by the sheer size of the event. I started by attending a poster presentation on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, during which I gained a profound understanding of how these principles play in patient health care today. I was most astounded to learn the robust amount of research presented demonstrating how race and socioeconomic status continue to negatively impact mortality rates in patients with prostate cancer. With this knowledge, I hope that within my career, we can adjust these rates to meet the norm through increased patient advocacy, accessibility, and continued research on these topics. Additionally, learning about the implications of removing the race factor on estimated glomerular filtration rate equations gave me a sense of hope for the future. It is amazing to see health care being rewritten by the bright minds around me.

By attending the various poster presentations, I was able to gain an idea of the expectations for a great poster. As a medical student, I was initially apprehensive about presenting; however, after seeing the other posters on display, I began to feel more confident about my ongoing projects back in my clerkships. As I walked around the exhibition hall, I was struck by the creativity and originality of the posters. Overall, attending the poster presentation sessions at the AUA Annual Meeting helped demystify any doubts I had about presenting urological topics. One of the highlights of the conference for me was attending a talk on patient perspectives on Saturday afternoon. As a future health care provider, it is crucial to understand the experiences and needs of our patients. Incorporating patient perspectives into our clinical practice can help us provide more personalized care and improve patient outcomes. By attending this session, I was pleasantly reminded of where my passion for urology lives.

To cap it off, on Sunday, I was able to meet with other medical students and gain further insights at the Medical Student Forum. The forum provided an excellent opportunity to learn more about the field of urology, network with other students and health care professionals, and gain valuable insights into successfully matching into residency. The importance of one’s performance on subinternships, knowing the AUA Guidelines, and the value of teamwork were all held in regard by the panelists. During the forum, I learned how to appropriately obtain active and ongoing feedback from my advisors to grow as a professional during my rotations. I believe that attending the medical student forum has been an invaluable experience for me and has helped me develop the skills and knowledge necessary to become a successful match applicant. From there, I was able to connect with other students and establish a new network of friends who share the same passion for the field of urology and deep-dish pizza (Figures 1 and 2). The student forum was paramount in helping me establish connections for future research opportunities, electives, and urology mentors.

Figure 1. Reconnecting with old classmates in the area and introducing them to the world of Urology.
Figure 2. Connecting with other medical students interested in urology, Douvae Miller, Saint George’s University (middle) and Jacqueline Maya-Silva, USC Keck School of Medicine (right) over some deep dish pizza.

During AUA2023, the AUA Diversity & Inclusion Committee launched the highly anticipated FUTURE in Urology Program, and its inaugural weekend surpassed all expectations. The medical students who participated in the FUTURE in Urology Program were paired with experienced mentors on Friday morning, granting them invaluable guidance, and were provided with numerous networking opportunities throughout the entire weekend. Adding to the memorable experience, the R. Frank Jones Urological Society hosted a beautiful evening reception at the CityPoint Loft, providing an opportunity for continued networking among medical students and esteemed urologists.

For medical students interested in attending the upcoming AUA2024 in San Antonio and seeking guidance on how to get started, I highly recommend becoming an AUA member. By enrolling for free, you will receive email notifications regarding future annual meetings and essential dates for abstract submissions. To plan for travel expenses, you can directly contact your academic institution, as many schools provide funding to support students’ attendance at conferences. In my personal experience, I reached out to alumni and secured accommodation at their apartment for the duration of the weekend. However, if funding continues to pose a challenge, numerous assistance programs are available to offer support. Notably, Urology Unbound demonstrated its commitment to supporting medical students this year by awarding 3 Medical Student Travel Awards for attendance at the AUA Annual Meeting.

To make the most of next year’s visit, you can begin by working on the abstract for your poster presentation as early as possible. As a valuable starting point, I recommend reading a past AUA Medical Student Column titled “A Guide for Medical Students Without Home Residency Programs or Strong Research Opportunities.” This comprehensive guide offers a wide range of ideas for medical students to actively immerse themselves in research. My biggest takeaway from attending the AUA Annual Meeting is to put away your fear. Submit that abstract. Volunteer to give a talk at a journal club. Write for the AUA Medical Student Column. Take the initiative to reach out and connect with others in your field. While it is possible that you may not always receive the result you hoped for, it is also possible (with thoughtfulness, passion, and persistence) that you could connect with the right mentor or fellow student who will provide invaluable guidance and support throughout your entire career.

Overall, attending the AUA2023 as a medical student was an incredible and unforgettable experience. The conference provided me with the opportunity to learn about the latest developments in urology, connect with professionals in the field, and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges facing patients with urological conditions. I left the conference feeling inspired and energized about the future of urology, and I look forward to continually attending future AUA Annual Meetings as my career progresses (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Students and residents all flocked to get some time on the da Vinci Robotic Trainers.