2 months into medical school: It only gets better (I promise)

I have an exam tomorrow morning on cardiology, but being exhausted from a day of classes, an ENT horizontal elective and research and mentorship meetings, I feel like I deserve to procrastinate (if only for a little while to write this).

I can’t believe it’s already been 2 months! Between classes, interest group meetings, volunteering, finding research opportunities and spending time with friends, it seems as if I started just yesterday. After getting our white coats last week, medical school really seems more “real.” I guess with that white coat comes a sense of responsibility and privilege. Walking across that stage, you realize both how truly lucky you are to be a medical student, and also the immense, daunting responsibility that you’ll take on once you graduate in 3-4 years.

I feel so fortunate to be able to attend McMaster. We’ve finished respirology and we’re almost done cardiology. In the next few months, we’ll also be learning about hematology, GI and Nutrition, Endocrine and Metabolism. There really does seem to be an overwhelming amount of information to know, but since we’re finally learning things that are practical, it seems like much less of a burden than say, physics or general chemistry. Once again, I have to be an advocate for our problem based learning. I love reading cases each week, setting objectives with my tutorial group, and discussing difficult topics and puzzles. At least for me, it’s much more effective than simply didactic lecture-based learning.

UPDATE: I started this a few weeks ago, so now we’re into our hematology unit!

The leaves are changing colours, and it seems like in the blink of an eye, it’s almost winter break! I’m so excited to see my friends again on the west coast, but these last few months of medical school have been a dream. Like the type-A that I am, I’ve thrown myself into two research projects (fingers crossed that one of them will be published by 2016!), the surgery interest group, horizontal electives and of course, making sure my social life doesn’t suffer horribly. Now I’m just rambling, so to end this post I’ll give a bit of practical advice for the interview season and maintaining your sanity 🙂

  1. Be the best possible version of yourself. Everyone knows to dress appropriately, smile, make eye contact, be confident etc., but instead of being yourself, show them why YOU deserve to be at their school. There’s no sense in treating your interviewer like a friend or colleague, because they’re not. They’re there to evaluate you and to see how you’ll fit into their program.
  2. THAT BEING SAID, remember that YOU’RE also there to evaluate THEM. The school has invited you to their hallowed grounds because they’re interested in getting to know you in addition to making sure you choose them when the time comes. Most people (who are accepted to medical school) are accepted to multiple medical schools, so make sure you choose one where you’ll be happy. Culture really is important, especially if your school is in the middle of nowhere.
  3. READ!!!!! Can’t stress this enough, don’t think that simply bringing yourself is enough. Read books on medical ethics, read literature on the school you’re interviewing at, read “Doing Right” (EVERYONE reads this book).
  4. NETWORK! If you know someone at the school you’re interviewing at, make sure to contact them to ask for insider’s information! They might have a gold mine, but you won’t have access to any of it if you don’t reach out to them.
  5. BOOK YOUR INTERVIEWS/FLIGHTS EARLY. Seriously though, tickets get really really really expensive the later you book them. Also, slots for interviews get booked up really quickly, so you don’t want to miss out and be bumped months later.
  6. GO A FEW DAYS EARLY to take in the neighbourhood, meet up with students who go to the school, go to events hosted by the medical students and ultimately, get a sense of whether or not you can see yourself in that city/town for the next 4 years.T
  7. TRY AND BOOK INTERVIEWS NEAR EACH OTHER IN ONE TRIP. This will save you time and money, especially if you’re applying directly and won’t have any time off. This saved me from failing physics in my senior year (which would have been pretty devastating post-medical school acceptance)
  8. CONTACT SCHOOLS AND SAY “YOU’RE IN THE AREA.” Let’s say you’re flying from New York to California for an interview at UCSF. Chances are, UCSD, UCD etc. are going to want to interview you too! Just send them a polite email telling them you’re going to be in the area and see if they have any slots open. Doesn’t hurt to ask as long as a) you’re not annoying and b) you’re not lying.
  9. BE OPEN TO EVERY SCHOOL. Don’t write off a school because it’s ranked far lower than the other medical schools you’re interviewing at. Maybe you’ll find that it’s a better fit for you in the long run, or that they have programs other schools don’t have, or just that it’s in a city you absolutely love. Go into everything with an open mind, because that’s how you’ll find the best school for you.
  10. HAVE FUN! I think I talk about this a lot. But that’s because it’s IMPORTANT. In medical school, you will have a life. You’ll have friends, fun, traveling, sun, and if you have good time management, you’ll also have more than enough sleep. That being said, if you don’t love what you do and you’re terrified of 3-4 years of hard work, dedication and constant studying FOLLOWED by 2-5 exhausting (but rewarding) years of residency, maybe medicine isn’t for you.

That’s all for today. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or feedback that you have! I LOVED this process, and I promise it’s hard and somewhat terrifying, but also immensely rewarding.

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First week of school reflections: I guess they were wrong, medicine really IS fun

keep calmWe’ve survived our first week of school at McMaster and now we’re halfway through our second. How do I feel? Great actually. Surprisingly, medical school has been an awesome, educational and eye-opening experience. At McMaster, the curriculum is fairly self-directed, we have two 3-hour tutorials a week led by a physician tutor, one 3-hour clinical skills session in which we practice communicating and interacting with patients, one 3-hour professional competency class in which we learn about ethics, professionalism, social media, cultural competency, and develop other skills needed to be an effective and compassionate physician. Finally, we have 1.5 hours of anatomy and anatomy lab each week, and 3-5 hours of large group lectures in the main hall. Overall, that’s only about 15 hours of “in-class” learning a week.

After this past week, I’ve really grown to appreciate problem based learning. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love preparing materials and studying by yourself at home, then discussing the 2-3 cases we’re assigned each week. Having set objectives for the case each previous week, the learning process is dynamic and interactive. We discuss concepts related the cases; for example, the past two weeks have been cases on respiratory diseases and concepts. I’ve learned about the anatomy of the lung in anatomy, the physiology of normal and abnormal respiration (elevation, exercise, respiratory disease), diseases of respiration, the physiology of normal and abnormal cardiovascular systems, exercise measurements, standard fitness parameters etc. etc. etc. Needless to say, in the last week and a half I’ve really learned a lot, and unlike in college, I’m retaining all the information.

Problem based learning is like having really focused study groups – if you miss a fact or a concept, there will always be someone there to help you understand. If you need something explained in a different way, the 6 or 7 other people in your group are more than willing to assist you. This is how I’ve always enjoyed learning, and I would really encourage people who are independent self-directed learners, love study groups, who enjoy discussing concepts and ideas, and enjoy working with others to consider a school that teaches using problem based learning.

What’s interesting about Mac is that our exams “don’t really count.” What I mean is if you perform on an average level, you are “good.” At Mac, we don’t have grades or rankings, we only have evaluations from our tutors and preceptors. This means that if you’re looking for a letter of rec, it’s not how you do on your exams that influence this, but rather how you interact with your groups and your group leaders. We do have a few “exams” or rather, measures of personal progress. We have a PPI coming up, which stands for Personal Progress Index in October. Not too sure what this description means: it’s an “evaluation device that provides feedback to you, the student, and your advisor, that can be used to assist you in judging your progress in the acquisition of a fund of knowledge.” It’s 180 M/C questions drawn from the “entire domain of medical knowledge.” It sounds pretty daunting, but since you can’t fail on your first one, I’m hoping it will be a good stepping stone and learning lesson in my overall medical education.

We also have CAEs, which are Concept Application Exercises. These evaluate how well you know certain concepts and how well you can apply them to real life situations. We have our first CAEs at the end of September, so I expect I’ll be studying way more starting in the next couple of weeks.

On another note, we just had our McMaster Medical Student Council (MMSC) elections! I ran. No matter what happens tomorrow, it was a great experience and I’m positive everyone who ran would do a great job in their respective positions. This is also the week that a lot of interest groups (student council sponsored and funded groups at McMaster Medical School) are meeting, so I expect my schedule will be a little hectic as I try and figure out which interest groups I’m actually interested in joining. Combine that with trying to find research and volunteer positions, I can already see that this will be a busy but exciting year.

I think I’ve decided that I really am interested in reconstructive plastic surgery. Because we have a 3 year program, I do feel some pressure to decide my specialty already. We start our horizontal electives pretty soon, and I would love to hit the ground running. It would be great to get some experience in primary care first, and maybe do some more horizontal electives as we get closer to our block elective time. But ANYWAYS I still have some time to think about all this.

Right now, I’m really enjoying school, making so many new friends and meeting incredible people. I love the familial feel of Mac, and how the administration goes out of their way to make you feel supported. I’m looking forward to this week of school, and also this weekend! Sounds like there are a lot of events happening around Hamilton. I guess the longer I’m here, the more I realize I really was supposed to end up here, and I’m sure that no matter what medical school you choose, you’ll find that it was the right one for you.

YAY FOR MMI’s (They’re 99% painless, I promise)

**NOTE: THIS IS AN OLD POST, BUT IT MIGHT BE HELPFUL FOR ALL YOU CURRENT APPLICANTS**

Sometimes I wonder what medical schools are thinking. How on earth did I get an interview at the Michael G. DeGroote McMaster University School of Medicine?

The way they determine if you get an interview is fairly unique, at least so far as I’ve encountered during my application process. Your interview candidacy is determined by the following formula: 32% GPA, 32% Casper score and 32% your MCAT verbal score. If you’ve attained a Masters or PhD, you get an extra 1-4% bonus (so I guess the rest is out of 96%).

I remember my Casper test pretty vividly, since it was the same morning as the Nike Women’s Half Marathon back in October. You can schedule your exam on the morning that you want; there were two choices when I signed up, Sunday October 19th and Wednesday, October 22nd. Since Wednesdays really aren’t that convenient, I chose the Sunday morning at 9am (I’m a morning person) slot. The format of the Casper is interesting. There are three paragraph answer spaces on each page and a topic, question or situation that you need to answer or address through the three paragraph questions. This was actually quite fun, it’s 90 minutes in total, no breaks in between, and you can do it in your pajamas, which is great! Click here if you’d like to learn more about the Casper.

I guess I did ok on the Casper? I was just notified of my interview offer this morning (Wednesday, January 21st). My GPA isn’t great, 3.7 overall, 3.6 sGPA. Too many years at UC Berkeley has resulted in a less than stellar academic record. This seems to be earlier than the other Ontario schools and U of Calgary, who stated that interviewees would be contacted in February. For McMaster’s there’s only 1 interview date on Saturday, March 21st (I think that’s spring break weekend, so I guess I can go crazy after :)).

After the interview, your acceptance is based primarily on your MMI (you can read more about this in my other post). It’s 72% MMI, and around 15% each for GPA and MCAT. Therefore, make sure you practice! I’m reading Doing Right, by Philip C. Hebert right now and it’s a pretty interesting read on medical ethics and controversial topics!

Knowing that flight prices go up the closer you are to flying, I booked my flight today from San Francisco. However, it was still a little over 600 dollars. I’m flying into YYZ, which I highly recommend (Toronto Pearson International Airport). Hamilton’s airport is much smaller and it’s a few hundred dollars more to fly directly in. Also, there are more housing options in Toronto (via AirBnB, hostels etc.). I mapped it and it’s only a 48 minute, 32 mile drive from Toronto proper to Hamilton, ON.

Anywho, I’m pretty excited, and I’m glad I get two shots at the MMI! The first is UBC’s in Vancouver, BC on February 7th, so it’s coming up quite soon! The only thing is, I’m missing quite a bit of school in the next few weeks due to a pre-medical fraternity trip to Lake Tahoe, Vegas trip for my friend’s birthday, interviews at St. Louis Medical School in Missouri, UBC and McMasters, as well as Greek Christian Conference in Indiana for Valentine’s Day Weekend (I’m not religious, but I think it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to religion!). I will definitely update on how the interviews go when I come back!

I love questions so please feel free to contact me if you have any questions on the Canadian or American medical school application process!

Medical School Orientation: New scrubs, new white coat…still the same me?

So I just finished my first two days of orientation at McMaster University. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), I’ve been having a blast. Our school really tries to foster a sense of community, tradition, innovation, independence, teamwork and compassion. Coming to Hamilton, Ontario, I really didn’t know what to expect. It’s on the east coast, completely opposite to everything I’ve ever known or experienced. Growing up on the west coast, I’ve always taken temperate summers and winters for granted. Lo and behold, I’m now on the opposite side of the country, preparing to hibernate during the notoriously cold winter.

Anywho, back to orientation.

On the first day, we started with breakfast catered by Bread Bar, which included potatoes, eggs, fruit and all you can drink coffee (they clearly speak my language). We had been split into groups by the administration, with each group containing about 20-30 people. We had about 200 students in the room, including the Hamilton, Niagara and Waterloo campuses. This actually really helped streamline the rest of the day, as we rotated through stations in the afternoon in our small groups.

Then, we sat through talks from the Dean, Vice Dean etc. etc. All that stuff that you expect from your first day at a new school. What I loved though, was their effort to make us all feel welcome and relaxed. They made jokes, showed hilarious memes and really tried to relate to us – knowing that first year medical students are young, nervous, excited and ready to embark on the next leg of their long journey.

In the afternoon we rotated through the stations: trying on scrubs, buying stethoscopes, trying on our white coat, “finance fair” (which was really just a chance to get free chocolate/sugar), BADGES (this was really exciting for me even though my hair was flat by this point) and Q & A station by a current MacMed student.

I met a lot of people yesterday, and it really was quite exhausting trying to meet 200 students. Of course, we all survived and made new friends in the process.

That night, we had pub night, meaning about 100 of us went to Gown and Gavel, a local pub in Hess Village to mingle, drink and bond. The second years were surprisingly involved and enthusiastic, and many of them showed up to meet us.

MY REFLECTIONS: I’ve always heard that medical school can be scary, daunting, intense, and full of hard-core studying. Imagine my surprise when the faculty and staff keep telling us to make the most of medical school, have fun, meet new friends and try not to stress out too much. We have a problem based learning curriculum, through which we have small group tutorials. In these small group tutorials, we learn from each other and try and solve cases that are provided to us by McMaster. We also have professional competency sessions in which we learn about ethics, communications, handling stress, diversity, physician-patient confidentiality, and a wealth of other important and pertinent things that will help us become physician-leaders of tomorrow.

I’m actually really really looking forward to starting class. As weird as it sounds, I’m excited to start learning again, to ask difficult questions, to meet patients and visit the local hospitals. It’s one thing to learn from textbooks and boring lectures, it’s a complete other thing to learn from real life experience. As I tiptoe on this precipice between young ignorance and adult responsibility, I feel confident that I made the right choice coming to McMaster. Through the amazing, warm, and supportive staff; through the intelligent, talented and caring faculty, and more so through the incredible people that I’ve met so far, I know that this environment will help me flourish and thrive in the medical field.

More about O-week coming!

 

Applying to Medical School: Why it’s Important to Have Balance

There’s a few weeks left until Orientation Week at McMaster University School of Medicine. Our start date may be August 24th, but preparation starts well before then. Since June, I’ve been filling out my health clearance forms, getting my vaccinations and TB tests completed, getting my background check, finishing pre-medical school modules….and the list goes on.

Four years later, I’ve graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Public Health. It’s been a roller coaster journey, but I can truly say I (mostly) enjoyed every moment of the ride. Despite late nights in Doe and Moffitt Libraries, downing countless energy drinks to stay awake, rushing to get on Telebears to enrol into the classes I needed, and constantly comparing myself to others to ensure I stacked up to the thousands of pre-meds that populated my alma mater, my life at Cal was pretty much perfect.

I say my life was perfect not because I never struggled – I definitely spent hours crying over my physics midterms and hours upon hours alone, studying for the MCAT. It was a struggle, but it was a balanced struggle. During my four years, I made sure to party, travel and socialize enough to keep my sanity.

Getting into medical school is just the beginning of a long journey. In undergrad, you fret over your grades in classes, striving to keep above that 3.7 GPA benchmark. You worry about your CV, your extracurriculars, your research, your ability to stand out from tens of thousands of other applicants. It seems like the odds are stacked against you, considering less than half of medical school applicants actually get in each year. 

And yet, I’m so glad that I understood studying had limits. I understood that you only go through college once. I understood that life is not just about getting to the next step, but rather enjoying and learning from the journey.

There are definitely nights where I planned to study, but ended up going to a party (or two). There are days that I should’ve spent holed up inside, but instead chose to go to a rave with my friends. There are midterms I could’ve been better prepared for, but people who were much more valuable to me than an A. In college, I traveled to over 20 countries, missed quite a bit of school because of it, and even more when I traveled for interviews. I had the privilege of volunteering in Peru, studying abroad in England at the London School of Economics and going to EDC Las Vegas, Beyond Wonderland, POP etc. etc. My experience in college was diverse, rewarding and absolutely unforgettable.

Maybe if I had studied harder I would’ve graduated with a higher GPA. Maybe if I had spent more time in lab I would have more publications. Maybe if I had worked more I would have saved up more money for medical school. But would I have regrets? Definitely.

Having applied to both Canadian and American schools, I can say without a doubt that the process sucks. From inception in college, when all the pre-meds are forced to compete with each other, to trying to check off all those boxes (leadership, volunteering, research etc), to taking the MCAT, to writing wayyyy too many secondaries to count. Sometimes you just have to forget about being perfect and live your life the way it was meant to be lived. You’ll still get to that coveted destination, I promise!

I feel so blessed to have gotten into one of my top choices for medical school BUT I feel ever luckier to have had one of the most amazing, unforgettable and exciting college experiences possible. My life has been so rich, from my friends, my family, and the risks I took.

All this being said, have fun in college. Get too drunk at a party, stay out too late, say yes when your friends want to go for late night cheesecake during exam week. Be yourself and find activities that you actually enjoy! I found my passion for healthcare-technology in college, and a desire to combine that passion with a deep interest in public health.

I look forward to my next adventure in medical school, I have full confidence that my next 3 years will be just as amazing as my 4 years at Cal!

If you’d like advice on medical school applications, or want to know more about applying to two systems simultaneously, feel free to contact me via email: gua1@mcmaster.ca or via Twitter: a_gu77