First student-led Second Year Show unites a class

January 22, 2015

When Benjamin Ulrich tried to imagine an event that could unite one of the country’s largest medical school classes across a state the size of Indiana, he looked to the top for inspiration.

Second Year Show, or “2YS,” is modeled after a proud tradition of medical school humor and theatrics at top-tier universities such as Harvard and Yale. The "Saturday Night Live"-inspired comedy show with an insider’s look at life in medical school took place Jan. 16 at the Madame Walker Theater in Indianapolis.

“When I visited these schools, I always noticed they had some of the happiest kids I ever met -- despite the fact they were all studying for the test at the end of their second year that basically determines your whole future,” said Ulrich, referring to Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination. “I wanted to help create that same sense of community at IU -- to excite and unite all nine campuses behind a single idea.”

The plan was a success. Over 600 people turned out for the inaugural IUSM 2YS. Attendees included members of the Indianapolis and IUSM community, including medical students, family, friends, faculty and administrators.

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The sketches, which included live and taped performances from all nine campuses, ranged from “The Operation” and “Medicine and Recs,” a parody of the Indiana-based NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” to #FirstYearProbs, which poked fun at the absurdities and anxieties of the first year of medical school. But the greater mission of the show went beyond jokes and skits.

“It’s not just a comedy show, it’s about the cultivating a sense of connection and excitement across the whole class,” said Michael Johnston, a second-year medical student and president of the IUSM Class of 2017. “Everyone’s grown very close as they’ve worked through the process of creating the show.”

Jeffrey Rothenberg, M.D., associate professor of clinical OB-GYN at the IU School of Medicine, agrees. He saw this sense community develop up close and personal as the faculty advisor to 2YS.  

“I could not be prouder of this group of medical students,” said Dr. Rothenberg. “This show helped them in their formation of their professional identity… they learned how to work on teams, develop leadership skills and to coordinate projects across the state. They also modeled the ways in which empathic, engaged and humanistic healers must first care for themselves with balanced approach to their lives, including ‘permission’ to use humor to relieve stress."

He added: “This current second-year class is one of the most energetic and engaged classes that we have seen in a long time. Events like this show are what define a culture and make the IU School of Medicine a place where people want to train and work."

2YS was also a chance for students whose passions lay beyond the stage to showcase their talents. Michael Balatico, a second year medical student who holds a MFA in creative writing, took the lead on the creation of "The Newsletter," a collection of artwork and written works created in collaboration with the IUSM Creative Arts Therapy Student Interest Group.

Another member of the class, Benjamin Trefilek, headed up the organization of “MedTalks,” a free series of fun and educational 15-minute TEDTalk-style presentations from a wide range of physicians, professors and medical specialists on Jan. 17 in the Ruth Lilly Learning Center at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. The idea was born out of many out-of-town students’ desire to add an educational component to their weekend trip into the city.

In addition, 2YS organizers will hold a “torch-passing” ceremony in February, in which the first year medical students accept responsibility for next year’s event. In fact, Johnston said the Class of 2017 has established a new account within the Office of Gift Development -- the Student Engagement Enrichment and Development Fund -- to ensure the event’s legacy. A student advisory board with representatives from each medical school year will oversee the fund. Peter Nalin, M.D., executive associate dean for educational affairs at the IU School of Medicine, will serve as faculty advisor.

“This fund really blazes a new trail,” Ulrich added. “SEED is an opportunity for alumni and others to really directly impact student life at the School of Medicine through support for activities that improve local communities through local programming, student education, leadership development and other student-led outreach initiatives.”

Those activities will very likely include another Second Year Show, he said. But the decision ultimately lies in the hands of the Class of 2018.

"It’s up to them now to 'take the reins,'" Johnston said.