Highlights and Lessons Learned from the Second Month of Medical School

The second block of medical school is complete! We just spent the last 5 weeks learning about lung structure, function,  diseases, diagnoses and treatments, interspersed with a few lectures on clinical method, epidemiology and genetics. My favorite parts of this block were the anatomy and histology labs, and learning how to interpret chest X-rays and CT scans. We also learned the basics of how to perform bedside ultrasound. I love how hands-on the curriculum at my university is!

In mid-October, I had the wonderful opportunity to shadow a pathologist and two pathology residents for half a day and I loved it! The atmosphere was very welcoming and I was allowed to sit in on some cases at the microscope. Fascinating!

During one of my clinical sessions at a private Family practice, I got to perform my very first physical examination on a patient. I was a little nervous at first (especially since I have very cold hands) but the patient was very gracious as I stumbled along trying to figure out how to use my stethoscope and the blood pressure machine.

My final exam on this block was tough but I felt good about it overall. The week before the exam, I started to recognize signs in myself of feeling a little burnt out so I took a break from studying and went for the women’s fellowship at our church during the week. It was so rejuvenating to exercise with the ladies, chat and study the Bible. What I was challenged about most was resuming my daily devotional time with God (particularly first thing in the morning). I have to admit that with the busyness of school and  family, I have not been as consistent with my quiet time. I was reminded how important it is to have daily reflective time alone to recharge and gather my thoughts! Whenever you suspect that your life may be going out of balance, acknowledge it and try to address it as best you can. Medical school is demanding and it’s important to take care of your emotional and spiritual needs too.

The other item that challenged me during the bible study was to reflect on what things I can improve on in my character. There is always room for improvement. For me, the 2 areas I would like to work on are patience (particularly with my children) and humility (it is important to remain teachable, humble and remember that every person is valuable).

As I start Block C of medical school (Circulation), I am so grateful for all that I have learned during the past 2 months! It’s been both challenging and fantastic!

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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.

 

The Beauty of Mentorship…A Brother’s Love

When I was growing up, I had the privilege of attending the Johnny Academy. This was not your typical school or institution. This was a valuable one-on-one learning experience with none another than my big brother Jonathan (hence the “Johnny” Academy). He was 13 years old and I was 7 when we first started. It was during the school holidays and he was developing an interest in teaching so here I was, his guinea pig student.

Nintendo Donkey Kong. Image courtesy of wikipedia.
The Nintendo Donkey Kong I used to play during “class breaks”. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

It started off with English lessons where we went through grammar and vocabulary. Then we dived into French conjugation and Math multiplication tables. The next thing I knew, he was announcing that there would be a final exam complete with report card! During the breaks between ‘classes’, he allowed me to indulge in 3 or 4 games of Donkey Kong as a reward for being focused in class. He also promised me a big bar of Cadbury’s chocolate if I finished the entire Famous Five series of books by Enid Blyton.

During other classes, we had “laboratory” sessions where we dived into chemistry experiments using the best chemistry set I had ever seen that had been given to us as a Christmas present. My eyes opened wide at all the unique powders in the set. I’m not sure they make them like that anymore. It had the potential to blow things up! The most fascinating experiment my brother ever showed me was the principal of a burning flame using up oxygen. It was a simple apparatus. A lit candle placed under a glass dome inside a basin of water. As the candle used up oxygen, the volume of air inside the dome decreased and the water from the basin rose up inside the glass dome to replace the space previously occupied by the oxygen. It seemed so magical to me, as if the water had a life of its own!

Chemistry set. Image courtesy of Brighton Toy and Model Museum
Chemistry set. Image courtesy of Brighton Toy and Model Museum

There was no end to the variety of lessons and experiments my brother showed me. I remember deciphering secret messages that had been written in lemon juice by gently heating under the paper, making the letters darken and become visible to the naked eye. So simple, yet so fascinating! We had a very basic microscope that we used to view random samples from the backyard. Our house was filled with all kinds of books, my favorite series being “Tell me why”.

My brother also entertained me by performing magic tricks and card tricks. He encouraged me to be active by taking me out to play tennis, soccer and badminton. He sometimes pretended to let me win!

My brother has been my mentor from a young age. His passion for teaching and his concern for me developed my fascination for science, reading and learning. I love to find out how things work and to this day we still have nerdy conversations. As a former Theater professor who has just finished his fourth year of medical school in the States, he continues to encourage me and mentor me as I embark on my journey to medical school. His drive to succeed motivates me and shows me that if he can do it, I can do it too.

Mentorship is a beautiful thing. It draws on one’s experiences to help another person learn and overcome similar hurdles. It says to another “Here I am to help you get through this, to figure it out and to help you succeed!”.

Jonathan sneaking into my crib
Jonathan sneaking into my crib when we were children
Jonathan and I opening up Christmas presents when we were children
Jonathan and I opening up Christmas presents when we were children
Jonathan and I visiting Kenya where we grew up
Jonathan and I visiting Kenya where we grew up

Why Medicine?

I wasn’t born with an interest in medicine. In fact I remember dismissing it when somebody suggested it to me in my early teen years thinking I would go into veterinary medicine instead. But I always had a keen interest and enthusiasm for the sciences and could be easily classified under the taxonomy Homo nerdus. Remember those chemistry sets of the early 90s, with all those “dangerous” powders that have probably been banned since? That chemistry set was one of my favourite Christmas gifts and I’ll never forget the notorious experiments I set up with my brother. Thankfully we did not burn the house down or create any explosions! I always had a fascination for anatomy and biology and would bring home all sorts of creatures for my mum’s enjoyment (or perhaps more for my mum’s disgust!). I remember my biology teacher in high school (mid-90s) being impressed with my dissection skills and commenting “those are the hands of a doctor”. And that was about the end of any discussion about medicine until 2005 when a friend commented, “you know I think you’d make a great doctor”. She was very enthusiastic about it and I thought to myself, I should give this a shot! So, after I graduated from university with a BSc in biochemistry, I sat the MCAT that year (way back when it was still the paper version and lasted goodness knows how many hours!). I did well on the science sections and writing sample but the verbal reasoning hammered me! I figured I ought to resit the exam to improve my verbal reasoning score but got slightly side tracked by life, getting married and my new job in the pharmaceutical industry.

I decided to resit the MCAT in 2008 (the new shorter digital version, hallelujah!) and did slightly better but was not thrilled with that elusive verbal reasoning score! At this point, my research career was taking off and hubby and I decided to focus on starting a family. Our first pregnancy ended in a devastating miscarriage in 2010 at which point I decided that I wanted to specialize as an OBGYN. I thought if I could not have babies, I would help others to have babies! Fortunately, our second attempt went smoothly and we welcomed our boisterous little boy into the world in 2011. During mat leave, I repeated a couple of med school prereqs that were out of date (despite having gotten As in them the first time round). That was actually fun and I enjoyed refreshing the material.

In 2012, I decided to do a dry-run application to one local medical school and believe it or not, I got an interview! I still remember the excitement I felt when I saw the notification in my student account. I was at work and called hubby on the double to tell him the good news! We spent the next few weeks doing simulations for the interview. We had a blast doing this and by the end of it, I felt confident facing the interview. The interview was not quite what I expected. There was a lot more role-playing than I had anticipated which was fun but I was not totally in my element. I felt much more comfortable at interview stations where I could just be “me”, if that makes sense. Despite the challenges of the interview, I really enjoyed the experience, particularly meeting like-minded, passionate people. I felt so privileged to be there! I’ll never forget that warm feeling when I saw my husband and then 1.5 year old son coming to pick me up after the interview. I felt such a sense of support!

After a month of anxiously checking my account, I discovered I had been put on the waiting list. I felt quite disappointed but also proud for having made it to the interview stage. It made me feel that I actually stood a chance even having been out of school for so long (I was a “non-trad”). In the meantime, hubby and I were pleasantly surprised to discover I was pregnant with our second child and our precious daughter was born in 2014. I didn’t end up getting off the waiting list but realized that God had shut that door at a good time since I was pregnant and wanted to focus on the kids.

So why medicine though? Surely I did not decide to embark on this journey based on one person’s suggestion? Well, no! My friend had planted the seed and then life experiences along the way watered that seed and allowed it to grow into a dream! I come from a family of physicians. My beloved father was a surgeon and performed the first kidney transplant in East Africa. His untimely death when I was just 5 years old was a devastating blow to our family but he left behind a great legacy for his children, one deep-rooted in respect, gentleness and compassion for others. To add to the family tradition of doctors, my eldest brother and cousin became cardiothoracic surgeons and then one of my other brothers went to medical school later in life with a family. My extended family has provided me with wonderful mentors and inspiration!

I love the idea of life-long learning, of building relationships with people one-on-one, of being the person who can alleviate health problems, and who can advocate for preventative medicine through appropriate lifestyle choices. Having grown up in a developing country, I also have a heart to give back to poor nations, particularly where I come from, and to assist medically where resources are scarce. Having seen first-hand the healthcare system here in Canada that brought my two babies into the world safely, that nursed me back to health after the harrowing miscarriage, I really want to be in a position to create that same reassuring environment for people in rural or poor areas. The Canadian healthcare system is by no means perfect but I certainly reap the benefits of this system and feel a strong desire to feedback into the system.

So here we are again contemplating med school and wondering where to go from here? Well at this stage, my 2008 MCAT is out of date so that means resitting it a third time, yup! A third time!! Not to mention that I have been having some anxieties about the amount of time I would need to be away from my kids during residency. But I feel certain that med is the path I should take. The key question is when to reapply?