Proudly telling the world about #generationIB in our 50th anniversary year
Ajay Major, a 2008 IB Diploma graduate from Valparaiso High School, is a second-year medical student at Albany Medical College. He is the founder of in-Training, an online magazine for medical students. As an aspiring physician-journalist, Ajay serves an international community of medical students to address pressing issues physicians face today. Ajay spoke with the IB about his work and how the Diploma Programme helped open a door to his career.
When did you become interested in writing?
My interest started at Union College in upstate New York. I joined the school’s newspaper and wrote for the Science & Technology and World Views sections. Three or four months into it, the editor of the Sci/Tech section took a leave of absence and asked me to fill in. I then became editor-in-chief during the last two years of college. I fell in love with the editorial process, managing a writing staff and working with an editorial board. I built the publication’s social media presence, designed a new website, and edited photos and graphics for the print edition every week.
An incredible community can be built through writing. Medical student writers tell me they feel isolated, but they go on in-Training and find they are not going through this incredibly challenging experience alone. Catharsis is involved in the writing process and many of our contributors keep writing because it’s a great way to get your thoughts on paper and deal with issues you are facing. I encourage others to read the reflections published on in-Training.
Tell us about in-Training and how you came up with the idea.
An editorial partner and I originally wanted to restart the Albany Medical College newspaper. We went to the Student National Medical Association conference in Atlanta and listened to a great talk by a physician-journalist. We spoke with her afterward about our idea to restart the school publication and her response was essentially “go big or go home,” suggesting we make something big and national or even international.
We sat down and wrote by-laws, examined ethics, consulted lawyers, came up with an editorial process, and approached medical students as writers. We also did a niche analysis to make sure we were meeting an actual need in the medical school community.
We went live with in-Training in July 2012. We have now published 240 articles by more than 100 medical students from 55 institutions in the US, Canada, the Dutch Antilles, India, and the United Arab Emirates. We found a need among medical students to talk about healthcare issues. Since then, we’ve been able to move into original student reporting that focuses on the ‘latest and greatest’ in medical education. Because everything on in-Training is written by medical students, all this is done in a way that is digestible for the medical student community.
We started in-Training to provide medical students with a place to express themselves in a way that was unfiltered and uncensored. Many articles are reflections that talk about the challenges of balancing life with the demands of being a medical student, frustrations with the system and how to change it for the better. A lot can be solved by educating future physicians in a way that enables them to work on these problems when they become practicing physicians.
What inspires you as a physician ‘in-training’?
My passion centers on medical education. In the US, we are at the cusp of a revolution about how we teach physicians. I am pursuing an eight-year BS/MD/MBA program called Leadership in Medicine Program. The MBA in Healthcare Management exposes you to a lot of upcoming topics in healthcare and provides a strong foundation in finance, marketing, and leadership development. Most importantly, it gives me the vocabulary I need to speak about healthcare innovation in a way that makes sense to leaders in the field.
As a physician-journalist, I want to build a cohesive voice for the medical profession to enable physicians to use the media to become better physicians, better physician advocates and better policy people. In many ways, learning to write, interview and be interviewed are all critical to the physician experience.
Stepping back, what was your favorite experience while in the IB program?
The first thing that comes to mind is my TOK teacher, Mr. Hurdle, a phenomenal teacher. What was neat about Mr. Hurdle was his way of engaging the entire class around the “meta” world of knowledge and thought. He challenged us. It was a whole other level of intellectual stimulation that you had to share with other IB students in your class.
Did the IB prepare you for university?
The IB made the transition to undergraduate studies so much smoother. I was challenged at a high level during my senior year of high school. But, I saw some students completely overwhelmed by what was required of them at college.
Being able to write and think on the level I learned through the IB really prepared me to jump in. It also allowed me to explore extracurricular activities and that’s how I became involved in the college paper. Ultimately, that’s how I ended up where I am today. I was able to learn leadership abilities through my extracurricular involvement on campus.
Any advice for recent IB grads entering university?
Take risks. Explore things you have never explored, take new classes, study interesting things, join clubs you might be interested in. The IB prepares you to lead and be a successful change agent. Put your foot in the door and try something new.
Did you study abroad during college? If so, how did this experience shape your worldview?
My study-abroad program was the National Health Systems Term Abroad. We studied in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Denmark. We lived in each country for a couple of weeks, studying the health system and the sociological determinants that allowed the health system to come about. We looked at problems, challenges and how they could be applied to the US system. It exposed me to different ideas about how a health system should run.
Denmark stood out by far. It’s a state that truly believes the good of the whole should come before the good of the individual. It was interesting to see how the people viewed health care as a universal right, rather than something dependent on the individual. The Danes are also great people and it was a fun time!