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.

 

 

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How to YOLO in Chicago

A couple of months ago, one of my high school best friends messaged me and asked if I wanted to go to Chicago for Labour Day long weekend. Well, if you know anything about me, if it involves “traveling” and “long weekend,” I’m in 95% of the time. As medical students, we’re often asked to sacrifice our time, our relationships, and sometimes our sanity on our road to becoming real, productive members of society.

We’re about 2 weeks into our second year, and I’ve found this to be true: if you don’t take advantage of weekends, medical school will take advantage of you; thus, I booked a pretty expensive flight to Chicago, ready to go on another whirlwind adventure.

So how long was I in Chicago exactly? 2.5 days – short, but 100% worth it.

Here are some fun facts my friend researched:

  1. Did you know that Picasso, Joan Miro and Marc Chagall all have contributed artwork to the streets of Chicago
  2. Jazz was invented here
  3. House music started here
  4. Improv comedy was invented at the University of Chicago – the original theatre is still running
  5. The world’s first skyscraper was built in Chicago

Here’s a basic map of what we did to maximize our time in the windy city. If you only have a couple days here, the things I starred I HIGHLY recommend you check out:

Friday (0.5 day):

Saturday (day 1.5):

Sunday (day 2.5):

If you’re still reading, here’s a more fleshed out version of our weekend in Chicago:

I left Toronto at 5:30pm on Friday (after being responsible all morning eg. actually going to class and attending meetings), and got there at 6:45pm. Once I got there, I discovered something brilliant, that would change my entire experience in Chicago. UBERPOOL. My drive from ORD to our AirBnB in Hyde Park was about an hour and 20 minutes, and cost me $20 USD (crazy I know). Once I got there, me and my friend were starving, so we of course called another Uberpool, and decided to go check out the bars and restaurants in Lincoln Square.

After driving for about an hour though, we quickly realized that the restaurant we were trying to go to didn’t seem to exist, and asked our driver if she had any recommendations on where we could go to eat and drink (it was now 10:40pm). She suggested we check out Division St., which is a long street that’s known to be pretty fun on weekends. After another 30 min (total drive time = 2 hours), we discovered Pub Royale, and decided to grab drinks and food here. In total, our UberPool cost about $24 USD, which is incredible considering we drove for 2 hours.

I really loved Pub Royale, an Indian style pub. I highly recommend you check this place out if you’re in that area, they have great Indian food and drinks. My friend ordered the Chicken Tiki Kati Roll, which she repeatedly told me was amazing, and I ordered the eggplant curry, which was delicious and just what I needed at 11pm at night. After talking, drinking and eating for 2 hours, we decided to head home to get some rest before a big day tomorrow.

On Saturday morning, we leisurely woke up at 10am, and headed downtown to check out the Art Institute, after grabbing some coffee at Bowtruss Coffee Roasters. I loved the art institute – they had an incredible collection of Impressionist Art, and I loved their special exhibits. The student price is $19 (adult is $25), and I have to say, you could really spend a whole day here (Open: 10:30am – 5:30pm most days, 8pm Thursdays). If you only have a couple hours though, here are my favourite exhibits/collections:

  • American after the fall: Painting in the 1930s
    • Edward Hopper
    • Grant Wood
  • The New Contemporary
    • Andy Warhol
  • European Painting and Sculptures
    • Monet
    • Renoir
    • Dali
    • Picasso
  • Photography
  • Thorne Miniature Rooms
  • Chagall Windows

The Bean of course is pretty iconic – but I recommend going when it looks like it’s going to rain. There are always so many tourists there when it’s sunny, spare yourself and go on a cloudy day.

Sooo skipping to that evening, I highly recommend trying the doughnuts at Glazed & Infused, they’re really delicious, fresh, free from preservatives and all natural (whatever that means). They have a lot of creative flavours, although my favourite by far was the red velvet. They have a 2 for 1 (or 2 for 2 depending on who the cashier is), so make sure you stop by during happy hour!

After drowning our palates in sugar, we headed out to grab drinks before seeing the comedy show at Second City. I’ve always wanted to check out Three Dots and a Dash, a Hawaiian themed tiki bar, so we found our way to the alley and the unmarked door with glowing blue lights. It’s easy to miss this place before the crowd gets here, but basically look for the security guards standing outside of club-like venue in a shady alley. They have the most amazing decorations and drinks, and the bartenders are super talented. I highly recommend the Missionary’s Downfall ($14) and the Banana Daquiri ($13). The first is sweet and tart, while the second one just taste like sugar, fresh bananas and lots of rum. We spent a couple hours here, but it turns into a club around 10:30/11pm. When we left around 10pm, the lineup outside was down the block, so it’s probably a good idea to eat and drink here, then stay for the party after.

The show, #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment, was next on our agenda.

LOVED it. We originally wanted to see the Second City improv but it was sold out, so we bought tickets for this instead ($39 after taxes). It was really hilarious, and the the improv bit was gold. It was witty, relatable and apt for our generation. We were super lucky since our Airbnb host was one of the production managers for the show, and reserved amazing seats for us with 25% off our orders. That being said, COME EARLY since there’s no reserved seating, and the theatre is pretty intimate. There were a ton of couples there – it would be perfect for date night.

Sunday was another perfect day. We started the day off at Obama’s favourite diner, Valois in Hyde Park (I recommend the veggie egg white omelette with a biscuit – $7). He’s from Hyde Park, so you see lots of shout outs throughout the neighbourhood. After, we took public transit to Bucktown/Wicker Park and wandered around for the next few hours. There are tons of stores, bars and restaurants here, and you could easily spend half an afternoon browsing, eating and drinking. Also, if you come around 4pm there are tons of happy hours to be enjoyed :). Skipping ahead to deep dish pizza, here’s my two cents:

  • Lou Malnati’s: I tried this the last time I was in Chicago. It was good, but it’s a chain restaurant and there’re definitely better deep dish places in the city. If you’re looking for truly amazing or iconic deep dish, I would skip this place. It also has a super long wait time once you sit down, but that’s because deep dish apparently takes a long time to make fresh
  • Giordano’s: another chain, you can actually get this at the entrance of Navy Pier. I’ve never tried it, but again, probably not the best or most iconic
  • Pizzeria Uno: we decided to eat here because it’s the birthing place of deep dish pizza. It’s pretty famous, the pizza was delicious, and the wait wasn’t too too bad (we got there at 6:30pm and were seated by 7pm). I recommend it!
  • Pizzeria Due: I think it’s owned by the same people as Pizzeria Uno. It’s right across the street and it’s the “second” deep dish pizza place. The wait is similar, about 30min-1 hour and I imagine the pizza is similar to Uno (the menu is the same)
  • Pequod’s Pizza: A local told us to try this place for deep dish pizza. Supposedly it’s really good but we never tried it. If you do, let me know!

I ended up busing home from Chicago, which took about 12.5 hours total ($89). It wasn’t too bad, but we did have to change buses 3 times, so don’t expect uninterrupted sleep if you’re taking the Greyhound. It also gets super cold on the bus, so wear pants and bring a sweater.

Overall, I had an AMAZING time in Chicago, and am so looking forward to the next time I get to visit again. If you have any questions about my trip or want any input on your own trip, feel free to contact me with comments and questions :).

In the mean time, can’t wait to bury my head in my books for the next couple months, stay tuned for my next exciting adventure: USMLE STEP 1 (Note: sarcasm – I’m literally terrified of getting my ass whooped)

Side note: I can’t believe I ran into one of my old Berkeley/PhiDE friends here (TWICE)! She was here for a wedding but we literally kept running into each other. When they say it’s a small world, I guess they really mean it :p

 

 

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!

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.

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.

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