Hoping for a better sense of self? Maybe applying to residency will help

Time is crazy in the sense that moments can pass in the blink of an eye, or seem to last a lifetime (ie. waiting for your apple update to load, Dovetale training, getting stuck behind slow moving people and cars).

While applying to the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) – what’s known as the NRMP in the US – felt like an intensely slow, arduous process, I simultaneously felt like I was stuck in a pressurized boiler. Maybe it’s because I went through almost daily quarter-life crises, but these introspective weeks left a strong impression. They forced me to think about who I am, what’s important to me, what skills I have, what skills I wish I had, and all the things that are critical for me to stay sane.

In these weeks, I particularly realized the importance of friends, of family, of running, of stress-relieving hobbies such as knitting and of doing things other than obsessing about applications. Just ruminating about myself and on how to turn my weaknesses into strengths probably would have driven me crazy. You can only read through your application a certain number of times before the words all blur together.

Applying to residency is like applying to medical school all over again, but this time, with the added pressure of determining who you’ll be and where you’ll end up in the not-so-distant future. Applying to residency is like applying to be an adult – you’re finally taking that step into the real world, where your line of credit is no longer an excuse to YOLO. Before medical school, you have a lot of choice. You may be accepted to one, to four, to twenty schools across the country or across continents. You can choose to be by the beach, suffer through bitter cold winters, or decide that your true calling is actually in business or fashion and skip medical school altogether. Regardless of your background in university, you have a crazy amount of choice throughout these formative years that can leave you dazed and confused, but also optimistic and determined.

When I applied to medical school, I knew that my seven-year-old dreams could withstand the test of time. I indulged in my other passions – business, healthcare technology, travel, research – but becoming a doctor was always the ultimate goal. Once you’re in medical school your interests become more focused. Where previously you engaged in global health as a primary interest, now you think about these skills and how you can apply them to your future practice. Where previously you did hobbies for fun, now you do them because they keep you grounded after long shifts at the hospital. Where before, you could take classes like philosophy, ocean sciences and negotiations because they sounded interesting, now you take courses on evidence-based medicine, medical education and pharmacology because you believe they will make you a better, more well-rounded provider. What I love about medical school is your ability to take all the passions you’ve accumulated over the years, and turn them into something productive for society. With this MD degree, you have the ability to leave a legacy – but what that legacy is is up to you.

While I love reading travel blogs like this one: I am Aileen, and occasionally wish I could run off for a life on the road, I’m pretty sure my school, the Canadian government, the bank and my parents would hunt me down pretty quickly. But through your experiences in medical school, you realize that being a medical student, and soon to be physician do not preclude you from also being yourself. Applying to residency, and all the steps leading up to application submission on November 21st, helped me learn more about myself, my achievements, my failures, and the challenges that have shaped my personality and my ambitions.

They say that you should know your CV intimately for interviews, but more importantly, your CV can help you understand what’s important to you. What electives did you do over the course of medical school, who were your most influential mentors, what extracurricular activities did you participate in, what hobbies did you keep despite time and resource limitations. Writing my personal statements was even more so a challenge in distilling everything I’ve done in my life, understanding the story I’ve woven, and highlighting the things that stand out. A question that has repeatedly popped up while going through this process is why? Why did I apply to the specialties I did, why do my experiences make me a good fit, and why do I think I’m qualified to be in these fields?

At the age of twenty-four, I’ve watched my friends go into a variety of fields – into consulting, investment banking, research, and marketing, as well as pursue MBAs, Masters and PhDs. If you ask most millenials where they’ll be in 10 years, the answer is usually uncertain. There’s usually a goal in mind but the journey there is far from set in stone. They have all of these choices, whether they want to make partner at their firm in 10 years, whether they want to make a lateral move into another field, or whether they want to move to Africa and work for a NGO.

While medicine is by no means a locked box, on match day, when that final decision comes out, you’re effectively committed to whatever is written in that email. Whether that is your top choice program, your tenth choice program or no match at all. For the first time in my life, I feel as if I’m taking a plunge into the deep end. The plunge into adulthood, where I will be responsible not only for myself, but for the lives of others. The decisions I make can and will impact the patients I serve, and my mistakes could, for the first time, be life threatening.

The idea of starting residency is like the open water scuba diving course I finished this weekend. They teach you all of these skills in the pool – how to put your gear together, how to share air and rescue other divers, how to fix problems that come up and how to be safe but have fun at the same time. After the weekend-long course, it was time to go into open water for four deep water dives (felt pretty blessed that these could be done anywhere in the world ie. Mexico and Panama, as opposed to the freezing waters of eastern Canada), to review all the skills we learned under the supervision of a trained instructor. I recently finished two of four dives in Mexico, but it won’t be until I finish the last two dives that I’ll be fully certified and deemed ready for deeper open water dives. In the ocean, everything is a lot bigger, mistakes are more dramatic, and things can truly go wrong. If you’re not prepared in the pool, you certainly will not be prepared in the ocean. Much like the path to becoming a doctor, where you first get eased in as a medical student, practice and hone your skills as a resident, and finally, prepare for independent practice as a staff physician, it’s important to learn the basics in a low-stakes environment before facing the reality of responsibility.

Two-and-a-half years in medical school, I still can’t believe I will carry a “Dr.” before my name from May onwards (hopefully). It’s a huge privilege but also a humbling responsibility. There will be people trusting my advice, and patients for whom I can make difference. I’m excited, I’m terrified, and I feel as if time has rushed by, constantly yelling back at me to catch up. I feel like just yesterday I was a first year medical student, who had yet to do my first history and physical exam, and had not experienced the thrill of the OR or the reward of seeing patients improve over time. Although CaRMS is far from over, and we have interviews coming up way too soon, this application process has been an incredible growing process, and has demanded introspection into everything that makes me, me.I mean what is medicine but a commitment to lifelong learning?

Of course, all of this being said and done, it’s important to stay sane while going through this process, take those holidays in Mexico, do that half-marathon, share a bottle of wine with friends.

Now that Part I is over, I guess I’m a little more ready to tackle Part II: the interviews. There will definitely be more ramblings to come.




Halifax – overall 11/10, just don’t get the seafood chowder

Wow realized I saved this nugget in drafts. Now that we’re all flying off to our “vacations” (read 2-weeks of ++ trying to impress preceptors) and I’m currently stuck in the airport due to a flight cancellation, thought it might be nice to finally finish this.

Because you know, never start what you can’t finish.

Anyways, Halifax.

This blog post goes all the way back to a trip I took in December 2016. Originally, I had inadvertently signed myself up for a urology rotation at Valley Regional Hospital, Kentville, which is about 2 hours away from Halifax. I really didn’t realize what a remote location this was until my first day, when every single doctor I met asked me “how on earth did you find your way here.” Needing to meet some of the movers and shakers of Nova Scotian Urology – to ultimately fulfill my dream of inserting foley catheters and estimating prostate size – this was obviously not the brightest choice. The administrative staff at Dalhousie was a dream, and I was able to transfer over to the big city with little to no issue. So for those of you doing a urology rotation at Dalhousie, be grateful for all the planning that goes on for you behind the scenes.

Here’s a short guide of do’s and don’t’s while you’re on your Halifax rotation, including where not to get seafood chowder.


So I was pretty lucky in that two of my medical school friends *Chad and *Rudy took me in. Considering the pretty pricey short-term rent around the hospitals, I was really really grateful and bought them some hipster, small batch coffee-flavoured vodka as a thank you gift. *Chad was not a fan. In fact, I think *Chad almost threw up from this experience. We stayed in a pretty beautiful 2 storey house right across from the Halifax Infirmary (HI), which is where many of the surgical clinics and the emergency department are. This house had 3 bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms and a large open kitchen. They found this place on Airbnb, so highly recommend this app if you’re looking for a place to stay. Another option would be to go on the medical student Facebook page. Overall, I would say aim for between $250-350/week for a shared accommodation, and closer to $600-800 for a single, of course it’s always cheaper to stay with other people.

Something to note, there are several hospitals within a 10-15 minute walk of one another, the HI being on Robie St., and the other two, Victoria General and IWK (also where the Children’s Hospital is) on South St. Regardless, if you live somewhere close to one of the hospitals, you’ll be close to them all.


There’s no uber here so it’s either walk everywhere or take taxis. Taxis are actually pretty convenient, they’re fast and there’re quite a few companies. For a 10 minute ride it’s about $6-7. The only issue is that they charge you extra if you have more than one person, and it’ll bring the cost up to around $9. The week we were here it was freezing so YOLOCO, basically took cabs every time we went out. I guess there’re buses here, but I try and avoid buses in winter because of all sick people (would rather not have people coughing and sneezing on me before I get to the hospital).

Touristy things (from things to skip to things you should go to):

  1. Halifax Public Gardens – I would skip this. Everything’s dead in the winter. I guess if it’s snowing it’s nice, but then again, if it’s snowing here it’s probably snowing everywhere.
  2. Halifax Central Library – it’s really nice from the outside and I’ve head the coffee shop on the inside is quite nice. Great for studying if that’s what you’re into.
  3. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic – ok honestly, I spent most of my free time eating, checking out the bars and following this tourist map *Chad and *Rudy got from the tourism centre. If you’re not like me and you enjoy going to museums and being cultured, it was ranked #6 out of 132 things to do in Halifax.
  4. Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 – see above
  5. St. Mary’s Basilica – did not actually go inside but it’s nice from the outside.
  6. Alexander Keith’s Brewery – we actually wanted to go to this. You don’t have to make a reservation, and they’re open on weekdays and weekends. Tours are about 1-2 hours so this would be a nice weekend activity before going out for dinner.
  7. Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market – this was interesting, I love farmer’s markets so I spent about an hour here. They have everything from baked goods to fruits and vegetables to artisan small-batch liquors (where I got that coffee-flavoured vodka from). Would recommend checking it out, it was created in 1750, a year after the founding of Halifax. One note, it was a lot smaller than I expected, so you could start your day here like I did and move uptown.

Food and Drink

Probably my favourite section. Halifax is actually known for having the most bars per capita. So here’s a list of some great bars and restaurants (totally not exhaustive, please go on Yelp, my #bae on electives or Dr. Google to find more gems):


  1. Noble – we actually came here twice! It’s a really neat Speakeasy that requires a secret password to get into. The front is called Middlespoon and is more of a dessert, casual drinks place. To get into Noble, you have to subscribe to this page by email, and they’ll send out the password every Thursday. The drinks were really delicious and fairly strong. They’re a bit more expensive, $12-15, but they’re definitely worth it!
  2. Stillwell – It’s super hipster, they have a million beers on tap and lots of different flavours and ciders to try. They’ll let you sample as well if you’re unsure of what you want. We came here on a Saturday night and it was packed. Would definitely recommend checking this place out if you’re into craft beers.
  3. Durty Nelly’s – this was on the tourist guide for lunch, but it’s an Irish pub with brews and food. I’ve heard it’s pretty popular so check it out, all the bars are relatively within the same area!
  4. 2 Doors Down – we all really loved this place. They had amazing food and they have an extensive drinks list as well. Great ambiance, service and reasonably prices. Would definitely recommend (also has 4.5 stars on Yelp so that was a pretty strong selling point for me)


  1. 2 Doors Down – see above
  2. Ardmore Tea House – supposedly Halifax’s best brekkie. They’ve been serving comfort food since 1956. In addition to your typical pancakes, eggs, bacon etc, they also serve interesting local features like Newfoundland steak and cod cakes. Location: 6499 Quinpool Rd, Halifax. Phone: (902) 423-7523
  3. Battery Park Beer Bar – this place has a lot of locally sourced food that pairs well with beer. It’s reasonably priced and a part of Taste Halifax Tours. Haven’t actually tried it, but their instagram is bomb so. Location: 62 Ochterloney St, Halifax.
  4. Brooklyn Warehouse – this restaurant reminds me of Berkeley. No seriously, they have their own vegetable garden and a strong commitment to local, fresh, seasonal cuisine. They have rotating specials on a chalkboard and have an extensive list of wines and craft beer from the region. Location: 2795 Windsor St, Halifax. Phone: (902) 446-8181
  5. Chives Canadian Bistro – a menu of “Canadian” cuisine (and here I thought Canadian cuisine was poutine and maple syrup), with innovative meals created by chef/owner Craig Flinn (author of many best-selling Canadian cookbooks). The decor tries to incorporate elements of Canada like rock, water, sand, trees and whatnot and uses seasonal, local ingredients. They have a moving menu, so in the words of Forrest Gump, “you never know what you’re going to get.” Location: 1537 Barrington St, Halifax. Phone: (902) 420-9626
  6. Five Fishermen Restaurant and Grill – disclaimer: have not tried this place, but heard about it from several staff and residents. It’s known for its Alberta Angus beef and great seafood selection. There’s a fine dining area upstairs, and a more casual grill downstairs. This restaurant has numerous awards from the Wine Spectator with an extensive wine list. The building dates back to 1817 and was originally an art school, and later was transformed into a mortuary for victims of the Halifax Explosion and the Titanic. Apparently there’s some supernatural stuff going on here so maybe you’ll get lucky and get one in your selfie? Location: 1740 Argyle St, Halifax. Phone: (902) 422-4421
  7. The Auction House – So this is a restaurant located in an auction house dating back to 1840, and auctions are still held daily here. It’s a taste of local culture and history, in the setting of upscale pub food and drinks. It’s one of the city’s oldest buildings (built in 1765). There’s also live music and it’s across from Parade Square. Location: 1726 Argyle Street, Halifax. Phone: (902) 431-1726
  8. The Bicycle Thief – we came here on recommendation (both from people and from Yelp reviews) for a nice dinner and it really was delicious! I ordered the Cioppino, which was huge, and came with an abundance of seafood as well as a side of garlic bread. I can’t really remember what my friends ordered, but I’m fairly confidence that they enjoyed their meals as well. In total, I spent about $40 after tax and tip. It’s a little on the pricey side, but isn’t that what our line of credit is for?
  9. The Old Apothecary Bakery & Cafe – I visited this cute little cafe on my traipse through the city. It has a cool old-age hipster vibe going for it and adorable cakes and pastries. Everything here is made from scratch and locally sourced as much as possible, and I can vouch for the fact that everything smells delicious. Amazing croissants (of various varieties) and eclairs. It’s also a great study space with big tables, and it’s fairly quiet. If you want a change from your typical Starbucks, check this place out (just make sure to stand once in a while, all those pastries can’t be good for your waistline). Location: 1549 Barrington St, Halifax. Phone: (902) 423-1500
  10. The Wooden Monkey – for all those vegan and food sensitive people, this is the spot for you BUT they also offer things like fish, bacon wrapped scallops and bacon cheeseburgers for all those people who die without meat at every meal (menu). They note all the gluten free options, as well as anything with dairy or nuts. They have a mix of different foods with everything from seitan sandwiches to chocolate tofu pie to lamb burgers. Location: 1707 Grafton St, Halifax.

Huffington Post also has a great updated list and review of restaurants to visit

 Places outside of Halifax worth seeing if you’re there for 2 weeks:

  1. Wolfville – so I like food. And clearly the people of Wolfville like food too. However, disclaimer I have never been to this place. When I was in Kentville (small town with small population), apparently the place to go for a nice dinner was this town approximately 15min drive away. Would appreciate if someone could let me know if I’m talking out of my a**.
  2. Peggy’s Cove
  3. Blomidon Provincial Park
  4. Fisherman’s Cove

Honestly have never been to any of these places. Please see this blog for a much better explanation AND a guide to your weekend outside of Halifax.

Overall I had an awesome time in Halifax. It has a small town vibe but with tons of great bars, live music, yummy food, really really nice people and everything you need is mostly within walking distance. Especially if you live in or near downtown Halifax. Some final tips:

  1. Moksha here (like all Moksha’s) have a $40 for 30 days introductory pass. If you think this is your first and last time here, take advantage of all the introductory deals you can! I think I went to 5 or 6 yoga classes, but it was a great break from the freezing cold wind outside.
  2. Do not wear flats in winter. Because it will suck a lot and you might fall on your face like I did (it might’ve happened twice).
  3. I heard summer is really beautiful here. Honestly please enjoy the outdoors and the festivals and all that happy instagram stuff because we only get this “vacation” once.

Have fun! Feel free to message me or comment if you have any questions about Halifax, urology or surviving in the middle of nowhere.