A Reason To Smile

Yesterday, after a particularly busy day, I embarked on my long drive home. One of my favorite parts of the trip is the moment when I cross one of the bridges connecting the island of Montreal with the mainland. I always take a sneak peek to my right where I can see luscious green rolling hills, wavy water and specks of white sails belonging to the numerous boats making their way leisurely through the water.

It is at that moment that I take a deep breath and smile as I anticipate seeing the smiling faces of my children waiting for me at home. Often, my husband and kids will call me on my drive home simply to say that they are looking forward to seeing me soon and that they love me. Those moments always give me extra strength and remind me of how much I have to be grateful for.

When mummy pulls into the driveway, after a busy day at medical school, I see excited young faces at the window, I hear the door bursting open and two little beings yelling with joy as they run into my arms shouting “Mummy you’re home”.

My mind flashes back to when I was five years old, and I used to rush into my late father’s arms when he would come home from a long work day at the hospital. I remember him swirling me around and around, him biting back his fatigue so he could spend some special moments with me.

Thirty years later, I am in a similar position with my children and I absolutely love the fact that I get to come home to them and that their excitement and joy remind me of how much I am loved and appreciated.

My husband and children give me a reason to smile everyday!

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Medical School Starts Tomorrow!

It is hard to believe that after 10 years of planning, with plenty of detours and surprises, I am finally starting medical school tomorrow! When I look back on the past few years, there were several moments when I wondered why there had been a delay or why things did not go as planned. In hindsight, I realize that everything had a purpose and that this is exactly the right time to be doing this, even if it took much longer than expected to get here!

I am so grateful for the support I have received from my amazing husband, church, friends and family. If you have a goal in life that seems somewhat overwhelming or even nearly impossible, gather the right people around you to encourage you, lift you up and mentor you. This has been invaluable to me for getting through obstacles and disappointments.

Last Friday, my husband and I spent a day together (normally, we’re surrounded by our rambunctious kids!) We drove downtown and strolled around hand-in-hand reminiscing on our early dating days. It was so special to walk on campus where I completed my first degree eleven years go, knowing that in just a few days I would begin another one at the very same university.

My husband and I wandered into the medical building where most of my classes will be. We eventually found ourselves in the Osler library, home to thousands of books on the history of medicine personally owned by the Canadian physician Sir William Osler, the father of modern medicine. There was something so profound about being in touch with this important piece of history just prior to the start of my own journey into medicine.

As I start a new phase of my life tomorrow, I hope you will continue to follow me on this adventure. My husband and children are very excited and although I know it will be demanding, I am so thrilled to have my ‘team’ behind me for support!

Onward to medical school!

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On campus with my husband
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Last weekend before medical school starts! A fun ferry ride on the way to the beach at Oka park
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Last day before medical school starts: a day at the water-slides in Pointe Calumet

Photo credit for featured image: Karen Coshof (from the book ‘The Osler Library’)

Each Day is a Gift

One week left to medical school! I cannot believe how fast the summer has gone by! I have really enjoyed spending time with my family and watching the kids grow. Some of the things that I was reminded of this summer was how important it is to appreciate each day and to let those you love know how much you care about them. Each day is truly a gift!

I have found that taking stock of each day and meditating on what I have to be grateful for helps to temper the worries and frustrations of day-to-day life. Three things I read or heard this past week also gave me pause for thought:

  1. Let those you come into contact with feel that they are important and worth something: In the book God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet, a California-based physician tells her story of practicing medicine. One of the hospitalized patients was a woman who was on her death-bed. When Dr. Sweet asked what else could be done for her, the patient simply asked for something different to eat at her mealtimes and to have new eyeglasses since her current ones were broken. I can imagine that the physician was taken aback by this simple request that meant so much. Sometimes we may feel that we cannot make a difference but there is always an opportunity to show appreciation even if it means asking a simple question or demonstrating a caring gesture.
  2. Forgive from the heart: In Matthew 18 of the Bible, Jesus depicts a vivid parable of a servant who owes a large debt to his master and another servant who owes a smaller debt to his fellow servant. The  master forgives the debt but the servant shows no mercy towards his fellow servant. Jesus explains the consequences of an unforgiving attitude and implores his listeners to forgive from the heart. Jesus’ choice of words touched me because ‘forgiveness from the heart’ to me implies a deep, complete and unshakable forgiveness.
  3. Prioritize your life: I had an inspiring chat with my oldest brother who is a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon based in Kenya. As I spoke with him about how he manages balancing his career with family, his words of wisdom rang true: prioritize your life. For him that meant 1) God 2) Spouse 3) Children 4) Career. Of course there are plenty of other things that make up our lives such as our social life and hobbies but often our family life and work are the most difficult to balance. Priorities mean different things to different people but having an idea of what comes first and what we are not willing to compromise on can guide us when trying to navigate the busy waters of life.
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 So grateful for my precious family! Each day is a gift!

Five Benefits of Venturing Outside Your Comfort Zone

It’s rarely easy doing something that we are not accustomed to. It can make us feel uncomfortable and unsure of ourselves. This week I was reminded that venturing outside our comfort zone is actually good for us. It can increase our confidence and help us achieve things we would never have thought we were capable of.

This past week, I had the pleasure of being part of a great team that led over 60 kids aged between 4 and 12 during our church annual summer camp. The theme for this year was ‘Cave Quest’ and many of the activities dealt with geology concepts such as stalactites, stalagmites, snottites and geodes. I was tasked with the role of running the “Imagination (Science) Station” during which I would run various experiments with the children.

Now I have to say that prior to the camp I felt rather intimidated by the sheer number of kids that we would be looking after as well as the fact that I had never done a summer camp before nor did I have much knowledge about geology. I would have felt much more at ease talking about biology or chemistry. But geology? I simply felt clueless. The fact that my team and the kids were depending on me forced me to do my research and come up with some inventive ways to demonstrate the experiments.

Through the course of the week, I went through a myriad of emotions from exhaustion to frustration to amazement to appreciation to gratitude! It was difficult to do something outside of my comfort zone and there were times when I felt I was not doing a good job. But each day, the excited faces of the children with their energy, curiosity and thirst for knowledge, made me feel so privileged to be part of the team doing sports, sharing about the wonders of science as well as the love of Jesus.

This week surely reminded me of the importance of stepping outside of our comfort zone from time to time. The benefits are many:

  1. Growth and perseverance: doing something you are not familiar with stretches you and forces you to use your mind and body in ways that you’re not used to. The result is a stronger, more resilient person who can take on even greater challenges.
  2. Builds relationships: having been in the trenches with the kids and other leaders for five full days in a row, I got to know more about them and to build some amazing friendships.
  3. Expands your horizons: I remember somewhat grumbling to myself when I saw what the theme for the summer camp was….geology? Boring! I don’t know anything about that! But having researched and then explained the concepts to the kids, I learned some truly fascinating things!
  4. Builds your confidence: Having successfully managed to “survive” the summer camp, I feel much more confident to take on  new things and not to be intimidated by my lack of knowledge on a subject. There are so many resources to learn new things!
  5. Meets a need: No matter how uncomfortable or incompetent you may feel at something, if you give it your best and put in the required effort, you will make a difference in someone’s life, maybe even leave a permanent mark on their hearts and minds.

Don’t be afraid to try something new! Don’t let discomfort hold you back! There is a learning curve for everything and with time and effort, you will eventually succeed!

Ten Tips to Excelling on Your Interview

The interview does not have to be a daunting step in your journey to getting into medical school or to getting that desired job. With the appropriate preparation, you can face it with confidence and boldness, knowing that you have worked hard and have the ability to succeed!

The medical school interview has evolved in recent years from the more traditional one person interview to an amalgamated set of interviews known as the multiple-mini-interview (MMI). This involves a series of about 10 interview stations, 10 minutes each in length with different interviewers. The format of each interview can consist of traditional interview questions, role-play (acting), logic/calculation questions, writing, team-work (collaboration) and more. You can read more about the history and format of the MMI.

The main purpose of this post is to give you some tips to prepare for the MMI and how to handle yourself on the big interview day. Many of these tips apply to other interview formats:

  1. Practice, practice, practice: This is the most important way to prepare and you can start months in advance before you even receive an interview invite. I started with just one question a day (there are plenty of sample questions online). Once I received an interview invitation, I ramped up my practice to about 2-3 questions per day.  I also recorded myself to evaluate my body language, tone of voice and to obtain feedback from others. Practicing in front of the mirror, on Skype, or in person with people from different backgrounds will also get you used to formulating your thoughts quickly even when faced with unfamiliar material. Constructive criticism from those you practice with is vital for improving your line of thinking and delivery. Practice under timed conditions so that you get used to speaking under pressure and learn how to stick within the time limits. A solid foundation of interview preparation will give you more confidence on the big day.

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    Image courtesy of grafhamwalbancke.com
  2. Be yourself: I realized the importance of this particularly with role-play questions. Although there is some level of acting required, it is important to react to the situation the way you normally would, in keeping with your personality, and not pretend to be something you are not. It will be very obvious if you are not being authentic.
  3. Be confident: I went into my interview knowing I had prepared and worked hard. I was in a positive frame of mind, confident that there was no room to doubt my abilities. Enter the room with a smile and give a firm handshake. Recognize how hard you have worked and how far you have come in obtaining an interview. Keep that momentum going!
  4. Be clear and concise: In my view, less-is-more when it comes to an interview. Meandering and rambling speech will make it difficult to bring your points across. Try to keep your response relatively short and to the point (about 2-3 minutes in total and then allow time for follow-up questions).
  5. Check your body language and attire: This may seem like a no-brainer but you would be surprised by the things we do with our hands, face and body when we are talking. During one of my practice sessions, I realized that I tap my feet repeatedly, sometimes roll my eyes and clench my hands. Evaluate your body language and make adjustments if anything seems inappropriate or distracting. Remember to maintain eye-contact with your interviewer or role-play partner and maintain good posture. Ensure that you are dressed appropriately.
  6. Answer the question: You will have about 2 minutes to read and absorb each question on the MMI. Make sure you have noted the salient points of the question, that you answer what is being asked and do not go off on a tangent. Only interject personal experiences if it is relevant to the question.

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    Image courtesy of careerealism.com
  7. Listen attentively: It can be tempting to want to talk non-stop during the interview particularly on the MMI where you only have a few minutes to make an impression on each interviewer. However, being a good listener is also an important skill. You can demonstrate this during role-play scenarios by pausing at appropriate moments to allow the other person to speak and by asking questions to stimulate conversation.
  8. Explain your thought process: For logic questions, explain your line of thinking as you go along rather than waiting to find the solution in your mind before presenting it. Even if you run out of time or do not arrive at the correct answer, you will have at least demonstrated how you think and tackle problems.
  9. Be engaged: Even if you are unsure of how to answer a question, be enthusiastic and engaged with your interviewer. Your passion will come across in your tone of voice and body language. In role-play scenarios, imagine that this is a real situation and throw yourself into the role.
  10. Have fun and don’t dwell: At the end of each interview station, don’t dwell on how you could have done it better but forget about it and move on to the next station with a clear, fresh mind. One station has no bearing on the next station. (Personally, I felt that I fumbled two stations but felt fairly confident about the rest). I have to say that the MMI was the most fun and challenging interview I have ever done. It really stretched me! Try to remember that although the interview is an important part of getting into medical school, you can also relax and enjoy the day through the different scenarios and the people you will meet. I made some great friends and was very inspired by the people I met on interview day.

Whether it is for school or a desired job, many of the above tips will be applicable in different contexts. I hope these tips help you feel more prepared and confident for your interview day. You can do it! If you have further questions, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to help.

Accepted! I’m Going to Medical School!

On behalf of the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University, I am delighted to offer you a position in the Fall 2016 MDCM…program. Congratulations!

On behalf of the Admissions Committee, allow me to compliment you on your impressive candidacy. We are confident that your unique experiences and perspectives as a Non-Traditional Pathway student will enrich the McGill learning community and we look forward to your favourable response.

Yours sincerely,
Assistant Dean of Admissions

Words cannot express my joy when I received my offer of admission to medical school yesterday! This is a dream come true for me and after years of effort, three attempts at the MCAT, and my second attempt at applying to medical school, I have finally made it!

Yesterday and today have been  a whirlwind of events as I have spoken to many friends and family members. I have received an outpouring of beautiful messages from all over the world. At my women’s bible study this morning, I was smothered in hugs, smiles, laughter and happy tears as well as presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. A celebration party is already in the works courtesy of my friends who are as excited as I am.

Countless friends and family have been upholding me in prayer this whole journey and particularly after I received the difficult news on Friday that I had been put on the waiting list. My support network never gave up hope and continued to encourage me, support me and pray for me. I have never felt so much overwhelming love around me. My husband came home from work with tears running down his cheeks as we embraced for a long time and the kids were jumping up and down in excitement.

I feel that I have not been walking this journey alone. So many have been walking with me, picking me up when I fell down, motivating me when I felt exhausted, encouraging me when I felt like giving up.

This whole experience, both the highlights and valleys, has made me grow in so many ways and has strengthened my faith in such a mighty way. I am so grateful to all of you who believed in me and encouraged me. I will never forget the night in my kitchen when I announced to my husband that I was giving up on medicine and we talked for 2 straight hours about how that was not an option and we needed to talk through what my concerns were.

Through it all, my husband never wavered and continued to assure me he would walk with me through this journey. I owe so much to my family and friends, and in particular one of my big brothers and mentor who has been inspiring me since we were children, and who consistently told me how much potential  I have. I could not have done this without my Heavenly Father who gave me so much strength through my weak moments, and who guided me when I felt lost.

As I continue to absorb this exciting news, I think of my amazing late father who set a wonderful example of inspiration and dedication in his career as a surgeon. Taken from us to soon, daddy, but I follow this path in honor of you!

I want to encourage everyone out there who is on a difficult path, particularly those trying to get into medicine. It is very competitive, tough and sometimes disheartening to go through the application process, but persistence pays off. Keep trying, don’t give up! Whatever you set your mind to, keep your eyes above the waves and focused on your prize. You will get there at the right time!

Thank you so much to all my readers for taking the time to read my blog and encourage me. You don’t know how much it has meant to me and helped me along the way!! I know that the journey is only really just beginning and I still have a long way to go but I am just so excited to be starting medical school in the Fall!! Please continue to walk with me. It would be my delight to share my experiences with you!

This verse encouraged me multiple times during my journey:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11

A new chapter of my life begins…I’m going to be a doctor!

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My beautiful family that I’m so blessed to have!

 

 

 

The Admissions Decision…Working Through Disappointment

This is a difficult post for me to write. I received the medical school admissions decision on Friday and found out that I was put on the waiting list. So close to getting in, but did not quite make the cut. I felt utterly disappointed when I first found out the news. I had been put on the waiting list the first time I applied to medical school in 2012. It was like déjà vu and I just felt crushed by the news.

I had applied in a very competitive category (the non-traditional pathway) for applicants who have been out of university for several years and whose science prerequisites have “expired” (more than 8 years old). There were 127 applicants, 17 interviewed and 3 spots available in this category. I was so happy to have made it to the group of 17 who were interviewed. If I made it to the waiting list, it means I am probably in the top 4 to 6 applicants.

Processing this news has been difficult because I felt that I got so close to my goal. It is there looking me in the face but just out of my grasp. It was hard to share the news with my friends and family who were eagerly waiting to know what the decision was. They have been so amazingly supportive and positive.

There is of course a chance that I will make it off the waiting list if one of the three accepted students does not take their spot. The waiting list remains active until the first day of classes in August so I have possibly another 3 months of waiting.

Because I am a person who tends to keep my struggles to myself, I am looking at this as an opportunity to learn to lean on others for support and to not stifle my emotions. I am going to “grieve” this news and allow myself to sort through the feelings of disappointment. I am not going to allow myself to feel like a failure because I know I gave it my all and there were circumstances beyond my control.

In all of this, I have to remind myself that God has a plan, the best plan for me. Right now I don’t understand this outcome. I don’t understand what the bigger picture is. But I have to trust that God sees that bigger picture and he is working behind the scenes to bring about something wonderful.

In the next few weeks as my husband and I figure out what to do next, I will try to remain focused on the great things in my life, like my beautiful children and awesome husband, my wonderful mother and big brothers…and all the amazing friends and family who continue to uphold me and encourage me.

Now is not the time for embarrassment, self-deprecation or negativity, but a time for reflection, a time to go back to God for more direction and a time to heal from this immense hurt that I feel.