The First Year of Medical School…Done!!!

The past few months have been both challenging and amazing! I can’t quite believe that the first year of medical school is already done! It went by so quickly and I am amazed at how much I have grown and learned over the past year. We covered 8 blocks: Public Health, Respiration, Circulation, Renal, GI, Defense, Infection and the Musculoskeletal System.

The last block was particularly heavy in anatomy and one of the most challenging blocks I have done. I have to say that it brought me to a whole new level of appreciation for the human body as we learned over 1000 new terms for different muscles of the body in Latin. Difficult to do but also fascinating and rewarding! I am also gaining valuable ultrasound skills and have signed up to teach this to first-year medical students. I think it’s going to be a fantastic experience.

Throughout this past year, I have grown in my appreciation for my teachers, mentors, classmates, our silent “teachers” in the anatomy lab, and of course, the patients who I have had the privilege of interacting with. Our medical school curriculum is hands-on so we have had several opportunities to gain exposure in the clinical setting.

My favorite block so far was Defense (the Immune system). I loved learning about the various ways the body keeps foreign invaders in check. Truly a marvel of the human body and a beautiful reminder of the majesty of God’s creation.

Other exciting events that happened in the last few months:

  1. The celebration of our 10th wedding anniversary (happy anniversary to my dearest hubby!)
  2. My son’s completion of kindergarten and “graduation” to Grade 1 (that’s my boy!)
  3. My big brother’s graduation from medical school as he embarks on his pediatrics residency (so proud of you!)

How was the first year of medical school? It was about as challenging as I expected it to be (particularly when trying to balance the voluminous amount of material with family life, church activities, extracurriculars etc.) but it was even better than I imagined in terms of how interesting the material was and what a privilege it is to be a part of the medical profession.

Through it all, I couldn’t have done this without the grace of God, and the wonderful support of my amazing husband, kids, friends and family. I am looking forward to the summer break over the next 2 months, spending more time with my family and getting some rest. In late August, I will be starting my last two blocks of the Fundamentals of Medicine and then Transition to Clerkship (rotations) in January 2018. Exciting!

Time will continue to pass regardless of what you are doing….make sure you are doing what you love! It makes life more meaningful and full of purpose!

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Studying on the deck during final exam week
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A visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan for my brother’s graduation from medical school
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Daddy and his little girl, hand-in-hand. A visit to Quebec city to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.
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Our cutie-pie! A visit to the Aquarium in Quebec city.
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A beautiful view of Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City from the rotating restaurant Ciel! 
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Ready for summer fun! So blessed to have these little ones in my life!

Reflections on the First 3 Weeks of Medical School

I have just experienced my first three weeks of medical school and it has been amazing! The first week was a series of orientation sessions to get us familiar with the medical program while the second week was the official start of classes.

I would love to share my experiences with you!

  • What I love about the program:  Fantastic classmates, passionate teachers, fascinating material, plenty of support, small group sessions, mentors, a focus on wellness, and the opportunity to shadow physicians right from Week 1! So far, I have had some exposure to family medicine, obstetrics and pathology. I loved being in the birthing center where I got to meet a patient who had just given birth by cesarean section. There was something so profound about being with someone at such a life-changing moment. I have also enjoyed my histology labs where we have been identifying different types of cells and tissues. Interestingly, it seems that pathology is moving away from using microscopes and instead using very high resolution images on the computer screen.
  • Challenges: The biggest challenges so far are being away from my children and the 2-3 hour daily commute. Traffic has been much worse than anticipated so I am making the most of my commute time to listen to lectures and also to decompress at the end of a busy day. I am very grateful to my husband for his tremendous support in helping out around the house and with the kids.
  • Surprises: The orientation and first few days of class focused on physicianship, the social aspects of medicine, indigenous health and the disparities in healthcare among the aboriginal population. Where as I thought we would be diving straight into hard science and performing dissections in the anatomy lab, it was interesting to learn about the social side of medicine and how so many factors affect health. I have also been pleasantly surprised by the vast array of backgrounds that my classmates have. It is such a diverse group!
  • Strategies for survival: I have had to adjust my study methods compared to the last time I was in school. The material is too voluminous for one to completely master every detail so I am learning the art of determining what is the most essential and what fits into the big picture of becoming a doctor. So far, I am mostly using the lecture material and my own created flashcards to summarize the material. Upper year students have also created some useful summaries that they have graciously handed down to us newbies.
  • Tips and advice: An important tip that I have heard from many seasoned medical students and doctors is to not neglect my life outside of medicine. I am trying to create a positive habit early on of having protected time for my husband, kids, devotional time, adequate sleep and exercise. I will also try to keep up with one or two hobbies, some friends and family.  There are several activities and organizations on campus I am interested in joining but I will have to be selective and not take on too much. Flexibility is important and I realize that I may not always be on top of things, but I will do the best that I can and enjoy the adventure!

Although I am only at the very beginning of my training and there is much more to come, I am really enjoying medical school so far and feel so grateful to have been given this opportunity!

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My new stethoscope just arrived! If you are wondering what brand to buy for medical school, this one comes highly recommended and is offered in an array of colors.

 

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!

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.

 

My Medical School Interview is Done!

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Ready for my med school interview

Yesterday, I had an amazing day as I went through my medical school interview experience. After an intense few weeks of preparation, it was finally time to face the interview! The venue was downtown, 50 minutes away from our house. My husband and children (my cheering squad) were eager to accompany me to the interview so they got up bright and early with me to make it downtown for 7am. We arrived well in advance and I got to chat with other interviewees.

As the interview day organizers came to collect us nervous interviewees from the lobby, I kissed and hugged my family good bye and proceeded to the check-in location. I was thankfully assigned to the first group of the morning and after a quick debriefing, we went to start our interviews. It was in Multiple-Mini-Interview (MMI) format with 10 different interview stations. Despite my initial nervousness, it was a fantastic experience. It’s difficult to know how I performed but I really enjoyed it and felt that it stretched me out of my comfort zone.

Even in those especially challenging moments when I felt unsure of how to answer the question, I prayed for strength and was encompassed by such a sense of boldness and confidence. I felt God’s presence with me helping me to be calm and at peace. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the interviewers, actors and the other interviewees.

It was stimulating hearing about people’s stories and their diverse backgrounds. The whole event was very well organized and there was something so energizing about being around people with similar goals and aspirations. The admissions decisions will be released on May 12th when I will find out if I have been accepted to medical school!

Through all of this, I am just so grateful to have made it this far. I have received overwhelming support from my church, friends and family who have been encouraging me and praying with me for months. No matter what happens on May 12th, it has been an amazing ride and my faith has grown in so many ways through this whole process. I’m excited!

 

Your Words and Actions Matter

Today, I had a conversation with a stranger that made me smile and reminded me that our words and how we say them can have a powerful impact on others. The stranger was a home insurance agent that I had called to make some updates to my policy. This person was nothing but gracious the entire call and left me in giggles as he joked about me being the age of his children and how people (like us) born in February are amazing.

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Image courtesy of callcentrehelper.com

As he made changes to my policy, his computer system froze up and I could sense a tinge of anxiety in his voice as he tried not to keep me waiting. My mind immediately jumped to my first university job as a help desk technician at a call center where I would help students and faculty to set up their phone and internet services (back when it was dial-up internet!). I still remember the people who were patient on the phone as I tried to navigate my computer system (as well as those who shouted  impatiently “let me speak to your supervisor immediately!”).

As the agent waited for his computer to come back online, he thanked me for my patience and talked about his passion for coaching hockey. He also spoke with great enthusiasm about his career as an insurance agent for the last 30 years. When his computer system finally started working again, he gave me a discount for the delay and again thanked me profusely.

I thought about how this conversation could have gone differently. What if he had sounded bored talking to me? What if I had hung up on him in frustration? We both would have ended the call on a negative note. But instead, I left the conversation reminded that our words and tone of voice really matter. It can make or break someone’s day. It can push someone over the edge or bring them back from the brink. It also reminded me that we can find joy and enthusiasm no matter what we are doing in life.

Tomorrow, take a moment to smile, chat or demonstrate a kind gesture towards those you come across. You never know what that person is going through and what your words and actions may mean to them. Your kindness and enthusiasm will energize those around you!

 

When You Have Fallen Face-down

January was a tough month in regards to my medical school applications. I heard back from three more schools and sadly, they did not invite me for an interview.  It felt like one blow after another, like the man in the arena, who is “face-down”.

Sharing the news with friends and family was difficult to do. I had a mixture of emotions ranging from feeling defeated, to feeling like a failure, to disappointment, to wanting to give up. But I learned lessons from my last rejection experience in November and did not entertain these feelings for long. I acknowledged them and then decided to look at the positive side of the situation:

  • Rejection does not mean I am a failure: It is just a temporary glitch or bump in the journey and does not mean the story is at an end.
  • Closed doors often have hidden blessings: I realized that by not gaining acceptance to those particular universities, I no longer have to worry about moving to another province. There are so many blessings where we currently live: a safe neighborhood, the opportunity for my children to learn French as a second language, and being surrounded by a great church community, friends and family.
  • There is still hope: I am yet to hear back from one more university (my alma mater) in March and this is the closest medical school to where we live.

So, even though I had my “face-down in the arena” moment in January, I am picking myself back up and moving forward. I think it’s important to take some concrete steps whenever we feel that we have fallen so that we do not stew in our disappointment or despair:

  • Preparation:  I am practicing interview questions in case I get invited for an interview. Regardless of the outcome, it will not be wasted time because practicing to speak better is a skill that is easily transferable.
  • Learning: I went through a few weeks of lack of motivation after my bout of rejections so I have decided to take an online course to keep my mind working. The course is in Global Health with a focus on Humanitarian Crises. Not only am I learning a lot from this course but it is helping me to keep things in perspective as I am reminded of the struggles so many people around the world go through.
  • Writing: I am keeping a journal to document my thoughts and emotions more regularly. I had a habit of suppressing my emotions which was not healthy and journal writing has been therapeutic.
  • Serving: I am grateful for the opportunities to serve and lead at my church through music and teaching. There are moments when it is nerve-wracking, tiring and frustrating but it has also been so rewarding and enriching and has definitely fueled my personal and spiritual growth.

Whatever challenges you are going through, do not despair. Those “face-down” moments can feel awful but they can also lead to great things and help us grow. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite speeches that encourages me when I feel like I am struggling in the arena of life.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end  the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” -The Man in the Arena, Theodore Roosevelt.