Linda had this week the pleasure of interviewing via email Dr. Lee Burnett, Brigade Surgeon for the U.S. Army and founder and director of Student Doctor Network, which he started in 1999. He received his D.O from Western University of Health Sciences, did his internship at Western University of Health Sciences and his residency at UC Irvine in Family Medicine.
Lee, how did you come to start the Student Doctor Network (SDN)?
Back in 1994, I started a free national newspaper for osteopathic medical students. At the same time the web was just beginning to gain notice and the first websites began to pop-up – they weren’t more than a single column of text, some links, and an image or two. Website programming at the time was very easy, so I decided to take the articles that we were printing and put them online. That collection of online articles eventually became “Osteopathic.com.”
Although Osteopathic.com was an early website, it was the second medical student website on the Internet. The first was a site by Nancy Sween, a librarian at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. The third medical student site on the Internet was the “The big guide to medical school” by Jim Henderson, MD. We got together and chose to utilize a single forum for all the sites. In 1999 we combined our sites and launched under a single domain, “studentdoctor.net.” Over the years the site grew to include most of the other doctoral level healthcare professions.
I remember way back when (late 1990’s) there was the med school interview feedback database with forums and somehow it morphed into this amazingly rich resource for pre-healthcare students of all stripes, medical school students, residents, and practicing physicians along with other healthcare practitioners. How did it grow? What were some of the important milestones and turning points along the way?
The site has always had a single focus – helping students get into and through health professional school. We insist on providing unbiased and open resources at no (or very low) cost. Students already spend enough on tuition, rent, food and textbooks.
Providing the site for free requires low overhead – all our forum moderators are volunteers. The site did not break-even for the first 6 years and I paid for the site costs and maintained the servers myself until 2006. There were many long nights fixing servers by myself at the datacenter.
But I didn’t mind; SDN is something I enjoy because of our membership and fantastic volunteers. Without them, there is no SDN. Our members and volunteers are some of the best on the Internet, they’re helpful, provide great advice, are often extremely funny and always supportive.
Thanks to our great members and increased revenues from sponsorships and donations, by 2009 the site had grown enough that we were able to improve and expand SDN by investing in professional programming, design and IT management. It’s exciting to see how SDN has grown over the years.
How is SDN run?
SDN is published by a 501(c)3 nonprofit educational organization. All our moderators are volunteers. I serve as a volunteer director of the site. We do have a few part-time staff that help manage our helpdesk, sponsors, and IT and project management.
What are your plans for the future of SDN?
Over the years I had many ideas that SDN couldn’t afford to develop and had to be put on the ‘to-do’ list. But now some of these are nearing completion.
We’re working to develop more resources to help students get into and through the health professional program of their choice. We want to provide additional support along their path.
We have some really cool things coming this year, including “How to Choose a Medical Specialty” which is debuting at Test Prep Week.
What and when is SDN’s Test Prep Week?
Test Prep Week is an annual event for our membership to learn about all the different test-prep services, products and publications. The event is free for both students and test-prep companies. The event was launched in 2007 and thanks to the hard work of one of our volunteer directors, Anna Peck, PharmD, it was an instant success and has grown every year. For 2013, it is February 18-22.
Lee, I noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you are a decorated officer and Brigade Surgeon in the US Army. How did you come to choose a career in the military?
I joined the Army Reserve in 1997 while I was in residency. Back then, I never expected to mobilize or go overseas. But things changed after 9/11 – I was mobilized in 2003, 2005 and 2008. Although I owned my own family practice and enjoyed my office and patients, I enjoyed my time mobilized with the Army even more. In 2009 I decided to sell my practice and go full-time with the Army. I’m glad I did; I have enjoyed nearly every day with the Army. My wife has been very supportive of my transition to full-time Army service; I could not do it without her.
In 2012, I served in Afghanistan as brigade surgeon with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. For the months before deployment and throughout the deployment, I worked as hard as I did during my internship – it was exhausting. However, I would do it again. Soldiers are some of the most dedicated, intelligent and amazing people. It’s an honor to serve them.
If there was one piece of advice you would like to give pre-healthcare students (other than make use of Student Doctor Network) what would it be?
Make sure you want to be a doctor for the right reasons. Get good advice and a realistic picture by talking with as many doctors in your desired field as possible. Don’t be shy about it – most doctors are happy to share their experiences with students that are interested in becoming doctors.
I have one other recommendation… if you have a chance to take a year-off from college, do it. Travel the world for the year and get as many experiences as you can. Once you start down the long road of being a doctor, you’ll find yourself coming out the other end in your early 30s, cross-eyed from studying, 15lbs fatter, and a lot paler.
Lee, thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. It’s much appreciated.
Pre-meds and med students, if for some reason you have not visited SDN, you’re missing an invaluable resource. Check it out. And also check out SDN’s Test Prep week, which starts Monday. We’ll be there.