December 21, 2023

Teaching as she learns: Staci Aubry, M.D., reflects on new clerkship role

Aubry shares what she's learned so far and what stamp she hopes to leave on the surgery clerkship

Staci Aubry, M.D.
Staci Aubry, M.D., acute care surgeon and surgery clerkship director

What’s the best way to transition into your role as a new attending surgeon? If you’re Staci Aubry, M.D., an acute care surgeon at Michigan Medicine, it just might be running the medical school surgery clerkship.

Soon after starting as new faculty in 2022, Aubry found she was on fertile ground when it came to her passion for education.

“I got more opportunities offered to me than I probably wanted initially, and I had to decide where I fit in in addition to learning how to be an attending surgeon,” Aubry said.

Aubry worked closely with former clerkship director Gifty Kwakye, M.D. M.P.H., Arthur W. Fleming, M.D. Research Professor, serving as an unofficial co-director for six months. When Kwakye was tapped to be the assistant dean of clinical medical education, Kwayke encouraged Aubry to take on the clerkship – and it just fit.

A two-way learning journey and a passion for teaching

Taking responsibility for an intense program that is a key part of medical students’ education may seem daunting, but Aubry found that the increased exposure to medical students has eased her own transition into her own role and built her confidence.

“The nice part about being with the medical students as a new faculty is you’re still viewed as super smart, which can be contrasted with the residents who challenge you – in the best way – a lot more. It’s a transition that lets me teach them a lot while I’m still learning as an attending,” Aubry said.

Aubry remembers well the fear of entering her own surgery clerkship and the thrill of falling in love with surgery. One thing she’s sure of already is that she wants students to have the same positive experience she did, even if they don’t ultimately choose surgery as their specialty.

“I want every student to learn something – either that they want to be a surgeon or to learn a skill that they can take to whatever specialty they choose…Even if they don't want to be a surgeon, I want them to be comfortable and learn as much as they can in the clerkship. For example, any specialty, in my opinion, should know how to perform an I&D or recognize an acute abdomen,” Aubry said.

A focus on life after clerkship

While it’s not Aubry’s goal to make every student choose surgery, she wants to provide more support for those who do. Aubry said that the increasingly intense surgery residency application process — with students commonly applying to approximately 80 programs only to interview with a fraction of them – has led to suboptimal matches and anxiety for the students.

The work on better advising students through the application process starts with data. Aubry said she’ll focus this year on collecting data on various academic aspects as well as data on application and interview volume.

“I want students to go to the program they think is going to fit them best and have the resources to do that,” Aubry said.

Teamwork makes the clerkship work

The clerkship director doesn’t run the program alone. Leaning into the team dynamic is something that Kwakye said served her and the clerkship well.

“It’s easy to make the clerkship all out the clerkship leadership team and the medical students, but there are so many other ‘big’ and ‘small’ folks who are essential in creating the kind of learning environment that nourishes growth,” Kwakye said. She pointed to patients, OR personnel, faculty, advanced practice practitioners and various leadership as crucial to the clerkship’s success.

Aubry is grateful for the team that supports her.

She has Jon Finks, M.D. who has served as the associate director for the clerkship for years and helps her navigate the nuances of running the clerkship. Aubry stressed what an asset he is to the team, and how he relishes the supporting role. “He proudly describes himself as the busboy to the waiter,” she said.

She has an assistant clerkship director in Hunter Underwood, M.D., an endocrine surgeon at Michigan Medicine, who will back up Aubry as much as possible and find his own niche in the clerkship.

She has an administrative partner in Karla Robinson, the clerkship’s surgery education facilitator who is the backbone and reason the clerkship functions as well as it does. according to Aubry: “Karla is the epitome of a clerkship coordinator and has become a great friend.”

She also has her acute care surgery partners, who have offered to cover for her when needed as clerkship duties collide with other responsibilities.

In addition to backup, Aubry is grateful that so many asks that the clerkship director has to make of staff – from helping with lectures to facilitating skills sessions – have almost always been met with a yes.

“My biggest fear coming into this role was that I don't know a lot of other staff yet. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how open and available anyone I’ve emailed or talked to has been, even if I hadn’t yet met them. It’s been almost too good to be true and you really get to appreciate the collegiality we have here,” Aubry said.

Part of the reason people might be so open? Saying yes to helping teach students is always worth it.

“Even if you dread something you signed up to help with when it appears on your calendar, you leave revived when working with the students. It brings you back to why you went into this field in the first place,” Aubry said.


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