Residency: Adapting to change

IMG_5819.PNG

It’s been about 3 weeks since I started residency, but I think the past few weeks have taught me more about myself than an entire summer of backpacking in Southeast Asia. They (who knows who they actually are) constantly quote “find yourself,” but in medicine, you have to constantly rediscover yourself. Because, as very type A personalities, every time we move, we have to figure out how we fit into this new system, and find new ways to succeed and exceed. So far, this has been a lot harder than you’d think.

For the last 3 weeks, and for the next 3 months ahead of me, I’ll be on my family medicine rotation. While there are many aspects of it that I love, such as being able to follow your own patients – I’ve already seen a few more than once! – counseling patients on preventative care, seeing your behavioural or pharmacological interventions manifesting in a positive way, and performing minor procedures in office, there are also aspects that I haven’t adapted as well to.

The first and foremost being: TIME. In university, then in medical school, time was such a precious commodity. In pre-clerkship, between going to classes, shadowing at the hospital, running interest groups, volunteering and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, I felt like I barely had time to breath. Then in clerkship, real life duties hit you like a brick wall, and especially on rotations like general surgery or internal medicine, dinners and outings with friends became a “I’ll see you in 4 weeks” thing. What may sound totally crazy then, is the amount of free time I have right now. Yep, you heard me – a crazy amount of free time.

Now that I don’t have research deadlines, student group demands, social obligations, an insane call schedule or CaRMS applications looming over my head, in all honesty, I feel a little lost. That part of my identity, the one that needs 27 hours in a 24 hour day is still craving that intense pressure. Maybe I speak for myself, but maybe in medicine we’re gluttons for punishment, we’re junkies that need to feel important, to feel needed, to achieve things, whatever those things may be. They say medicine is a lonely career, but do we inflict that on ourselves? These days, when I spend 30 min making my dinner, then 30 min eating it, I wonder if our lives could be so much easier, if we just let it be. Yet even as I’m writing this I have 10 tabs open on possible research topics, baking recipes, volunteer opportunities, my QI modules and Groupon (because I have this sudden strong desire to go on a helicopter ride around Toronto).

There are so many changes that happen when you transition from medical school to residency. Some people move, you leave your cozy nest of friends, you start in a new “doctor” role that once seemed so elusive, and you have to figure out how to fill your free time all over again. It’s not always easy to adapt to change, even when it’s positive. As my roommate can tell you, I cycle through feelings of doubt, of apathy, of hypomanic joy, of loneliness, of blissful happiness. Whether you’re moving a minute, an hour, or a day away, change is change. As someone who moved from Vancouver to Berkeley to Hamilton and now to London, I’ve realized I’m really not the best at adapting to change. Then again, when you’re an adult, you realize no one really is.

I think my friends who are on other rotations (read OBGYN, internal medicine, surgery) may disagree, one of the hardest parts of residency for me has been adapting to all these life changes. The me I’ve become familiar with for almost a decade of my life is screaming at me to stop watching Netflix and do something productive, but I’m learning that not every single moment of every single day has to be filled with something. As my days get busier (which they undoubtedly will), I’ll probably look back on this post and wish I was back here, in this moment. Then again, this is life. We’re creatures that are somehow unsatisfied, even when the universe has done what it can to make us happy. It is of course important to remember to be grateful. And despite this long tirade, I am so grateful for life, for love, and for all of the things to come ahead.

Finally, as promised, I’ll be hosting an insta-live session this week! Please comment on this post or my insta page with questions you’d like me to cover!

Advertisements

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.

Housing: 

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.

Transportation:

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):

Bars: 

  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)

Food:

  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.

 

 

Medical School Q & A

So it’s been a while since I last posted, but I thought this might be a relevant one considering some of the questions I’ve been asked in the last few months regarding undergraduate opportunities, medical school applications, interviews and physician shadowing.

Q: I was wondering how should I approach doctors to shadow or volunteer at clinic. I’d like to shadow/volunteer but don’t know any doctors that are willing to take pre-meds in _____

A: It’s really hard to shadow physicians as an undergraduate. That being said, I would first reach out to family or friends in the medical field. If that’s not a possibility, I would either look up physician emails and phone numbers and just reach out to them to ask if you can observe them for a day or two. If you email 50 people, there’re bound to be at least 1 or 2 positive responses. OR reach out to medical students who are working on research projects that you’re interested in. It’s always great to have keen, interested undergraduate students helping out, and you can ask them to introduce you physicians that they work with. This is a great way to expand your medical network AND build your resume with a publication (or at least an acknowledgement on a publication).

Q: What’s a good way to gain more patient exposure in undergrad?

A: In terms of volunteer opportunities, to be honest, I feel like volunteering in hospitals is kind of useless since you don’t get much patient exposure. A couple things I did during college:

1. I interpreted for low-income clinics serving immigrant communities. If you speak another language, check if your school has an interpreting program like mine – you get tons of patient contact, exposure and can also network with physicians.
2. I went on a medical volunteer trip to Peru, which was life changing. I had such an amazing time, was able to actually perform many procedures, and they give you a lot of liberty regarding what you can see. I would highly highly recommend going on a trip, even if as students, we’re basically useless and are there to learn 🙂
3. I volunteering for a complementary care centre serving cancer-affected women. They provided things like acupuncture, herbs, massage etc., that are not necessarily “medical care” but all of the patients were affected or had been affected at one point by cancer and were undergoing medical treatment. You could also look for something like this, as again, you get a ton of patient exposure and you really get to communicate with the patients. It was a really great experience and something I did for 2 years pre-medical school!
4. I worked on a clinical research project in the hospital; I can’t say I really enjoyed this, but I basically had to deal with patients every week to collect data. This is another avenue you can look into!

 

Q: What are some tips for medical school interviews?

A: So since we’re in the thick of medical school interviews right now, here are some important (but fairly intuitive) things to remember:

  1. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. Whether this is with current medical students, with your friends who are applying to medical schools, with Facetime, with physicians etc., it’s important to know how you’re going to answer the popular questions like “what are 5 words that define you,” “introduce yourself,” “tell me about your greatest strength and your greatest weakness,” “what are some challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them,” “how would your friends describe you?” And the like. They’re pretty obvious, but if you come up blank during your interview, that’s going to look bad because other people will be prepared.
  2. THAT BEING SAID, DON’T BE A ROBOT, AND DON’T SEEM “TOO REHEARSED.” Make sure you come off as genuine. No one likes robots or people who memorize “all the right answers.” During MMIs, draw on real world examples and anecdotes. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm situations in which you’ve _______ and put them into a memory bank to be used for later.
  3. READ! I would recommend “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, “Doing Right” and “The Woman who Wanted to Die”
  4. RELAX! Of course, everyone tells you to be yourself. That’s true, in the sense that you want to be the best version of yourself! Come prepared with good manners, be kind, compassionate, social and display good leadership qualities.
  5. MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE PEOPLE YOU’RE INTERVIEWING WITH! More than likely you’re going to see the same groups of people over and over. Take the time to make some friends, you’ll probably see some of these people again!

Q: How do I find resources for MMI questions?

A: Some schools will send you out a document with sample questions. READ THIS and practice answering these questions in 8 min. Otherwise, just look online, there’re tons of question banks available, but I would go with published questions from previous years first. Don’t waste time or money on prep programs, it’s really unnecessary. MMI stations go by so fast, I promise you won’t even have time to feel nervous!

Q: What’s medical school like? Do you have time for activities other than school?

A: The answer is YES. I can’t even describe how much I love medical school. It’s like undergrad, but with a much much smaller class (140 on my campus), more individualised attention (6 people per tutorial group), flexibility in your schedule (I have around 15 hours of mandatory class a week, the rest can be made up through our medical school portal) and the time to pursue extracurricular activities, research projects and community outreach. I definitely have more time than I did in undergrad, but I also have better work-life balance, I’m able to sleep more, and I’m overall a happier being than I was in junior year. It may not be like this at all medical schools, but I feel like I have staff and faculty support to pursue my interests here.

Q: How soon do you have to choose a specialty?

A: So this is something I’m not really qualified to answer, since I’m only in my first year. Currently, I’m leading toward plastic surgery, or at least something in the surgical field. That being said, A LOT of my classmates have no idea what they want yet. If you don’t know in your first year, you’re in the majority! That being said, because my program is truncated to 3 years, most people will have to decide pretty soon, especially when we start choosing our electives for clerkship. A good idea is to decide early whether you’re interested in 1) Medicine or 2) Surgery. From there, you should do tons of observerships during your first couple years of school to find something you like. Surgery is often glamorised, but remember that most specialties demand long hours, 12-24 on-call shifts, back-breaking work, long residencies and a lot of scut work while studying.

Q: Are you worried about your student debt?

A: Yes and no. Banks will lend you $250k for medical school, since it’s unlikely you’re going to drop out and run away to a foreign country. That being said, you definitely don’t have to and SHOULDN’T use all that money while you’re in medical school. I would say on average I spend about $3-4k on cost of living per month, and tuition is $27k a year. That totals to about $60-70k a year. Pretty expensive, but according to my financial advisor, I should be able to pay that off 5 years after residency (or 10 years after if I want to pay it off really really slowly). So don’t worry about getting a job in medical school or scrimping and saving, because your classmates WILL want to go out and have fun, and you should have fun too! Be proud of where you are and how hard you’ve worked to get here 🙂

These are just some questions that I thought were particularly relevant. I just came back from Japan, like, yesterday and I’m a little bit jet lagged. As always, if you have any additional questions for me, shoot me an email, a tweet, or add me on instagram to follow my adventures in medical school.

GOOD LUCK AND DON’T STRESS!

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