Faces of U of T Medicine: #UofTGrad18
As the MD Class of 1T8 prepares to cross the convocation stage, they share some of their best moments in medical school, what inspired them to become doctors and words of wisdom for incoming students.
When did you know you wanted to be a doctor?
In undergrad, I volunteered at the hospital playing guitar for patients on the ward. I loved the patient interaction and the feeling of having helped them along in their journey to recovery. I found patients also looked forward to something different to break the monotony of life in the hospital. One particularly memorable patient I played for was recovering from successful heart surgery. When I played for him, his family happened to have brought his guitar and kept it in his room with the hope that he would recover enough to be able to play it again. He got out of bed that day, brought out his guitar, and we jammed long after my shift was over. You could see how happy his family was, that he was doing the things he loved before his illness. Moments like these made me realize how rewarding a career in medicine could be and how much I would enjoy being a doctor.
It was during undergrad that I realized medicine was for me. I was always intrigued by neuroscience and took every opportunity to learn as much as I could. It wasn’t until one summer, however, that I was offered a placement to work with a community neurologist where I saw the perfect blend of neuroscience knowledge being applied directly within health care. I was driven by my passion in the neurosciences to find a way to apply that knowledge to helping others. This helped me get to where I am today, starting my residency in neurology.
I decided I wanted to become a doctor after my own personal experience with a rare and serious illness as a teenager. Back then, little was known about the condition that I had, and I was very fortunate to have been cared for by a healthcare team with a special interest in researching and improving outcomes in patients with this very same illness. I am forever grateful to this team: thanks to their efforts, I made a full recovery. This experience left a lasting impact on me and inspired me to pursue both clinical and research training so that I could follow in this team’s footsteps and address the unmet needs of future patients through research. I therefore joined the MD/PhD Program at the University of Toronto back in 2011, and I am thrilled to be staying in Toronto as I pursue the next stage of my training as a resident in internal medicine.
Some of the best moments in medical school?
One of my most cherished memories during my time in medical school is having been a lead in Daffydil during my 1st and 2nd years; there are so many things about that experience that I hold dear. I had never been involved in a musical production on that scale before, so I have the fondest memories from my first audition—which I thought I had completely bombed—to the hours upon hours of rehearsal that you have to squeeze in on top of your studies. In the moment, I remember being stressed because I had to balance so many commitments, but Daffy was such a massive therapeutic outlet for me while studying medicine. Those rehearsals were a time where I could forget about anatomy and physiology, forget about that looming exam, and just feel free to sing, dance, and act my frustrations away. Those rehearsals were where I became part of the Daffy family and met incredible people whose friendships I cherish. Those rehearsals were a time where I developed lifelong memories. My favourite part was show week, we would be at Hart House Theatre from 9AM to 10PM for an entire week - practicing and performing. By the end, we’d be absolutely exhausted; it was that type of exhaustion where you don’t really know what your body is doing or how it’s even moving and for the most part, everything feels somehow light and airy. And yet, those were some of my happiest days in medicine—to be there on stage performing in front of my classmates and peers…having them see you in a different light was a liberating moment. When the curtains closed on our very last performance during my second year of medicine, I remember feeling a flurry of emotions: happiness, because of the friends I got to share this moment with; relief, that we had done a good job; sadness, that it had finally come to an end; and immense pride and fulfillment in having contributed to something so transformative. Daffy will always be a part of me and, as if that wasn’t enough, over the course of my 2 years we raised $59,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society. If that doesn’t count as my best moment in medical school, I don’t know what does.
Getting to meet so many amazing people with similar interests and passions! Medical school has allowed me to form great friendships with people that truly understand, because they’re living the same life as you. Whether it was spending our weekends studying away together at Li Ka Shing or the Ryerson Student Centre, or texting during crazy call hours in clerkship to have some company, there would always be a friend to answer. Celebrating milestones like Birthdays, finishing exams, finishing clerkship, etc. and even sitting at a table for 8+ hours studying with friends, are some of the fondest memories I have that will stay with me forever. I look forward to seeing what all our journeys have in store for us and flying across Canada to visit all my friends as we go on to residency!
Ironically, the best moments during my time in medical school were those where I was pushed the hardest – racing the clock in preparation for pre-clerkship exams, pulling through endless nights on-call, or province-hopping every day for residency interviews. All these moments will stay with me not for the pressure they carried at the time, but for the invaluable moments of shared laughter and tears, and the rich friendships that blossomed with incredibly talented and compassionate classmates. Perhaps equally compelling was the privilege of experiencing a complete spectrum of life’s miracles in a single year – from bringing a newborn into the world to holding a patient’s hand in their last moments – experiences which I will cherish throughout my career.
What advice would you give to incoming students?
Be proactive and forge opportunities that align with your interests. Toronto is a hub for research, education, policy, technology, and so much more; many of these opportunities are just an email away. Moreover, be open to new experiences as your interests will probably change! I started medical school thinking I would become a cancer researcher, but I’ve since shifted my focus to health systems leadership and innovation.
Get to know your classmates and they will inspire you. Personally, I found that joining groups such as student government was a great way to meet people and form connections locally (e.g., Medical Society), provincially (e.g., Ontario Medical Students Association), and nationally (e.g., Canadian Federation of Medical Students). Learn from your classmates and celebrate their success; life is not a zero-sum game.
Travel the world while you can; you won’t have summer break again after medical school. Traveling can be part of your education too, such as through international electives! Experiencing healthcare in another country is truly eye-opening.
One piece of advice that I would give would be to try as early as possible to change the way you view medical school. Instead of treating it like school, treat it as if you are preparing for your career. This may seem obvious but it can sometimes be difficult to look past the next exam and instead focus on what you need to learn and know to become an excellent clinician. I think eventually most of us figure this out, but I think those who realized it early came out way ahead.
It's hard to believe how quickly medical school flew by. During the tough times when I was stressing over the next exam, complaining about my schedule, or feeling overwhelmed, I would constantly just tell myself that I would get through this hurdle and then catch a break and be able to enjoy myself. However, as soon as I would finish one challenge, it was on to the next. My mom would wisely remind me to enjoy the entire journey and not think of each step as an obstacle I must overcome in order to then reach happiness. This would be my advice to incoming students - try to enjoy the journey as much as possible and take advantage of the unique privileges you have as a medical student. Shadow a random specialty, travel across Canada for electives, get involved in extra-curriculars you are passionate about. And don't forget that life continues outside of school, so make sure you take the time to nourish your relationships, stay active, go out with friends, enjoy your hobbies and even take up new ones (oil painting and dodgeball are some personal favourites!). I used to always relate to the mentality of "working hard now so you can enjoy life later". But now I am better able to appreciate that you should try to find joy in every step of the way.
In a nutshell, don’t rush through your medical school experience. My advice to you is to soak up every moment – from the nights you spend hitting the books, to the days you spend relaxing. All of these moments will come together to shape your journey.
Beyond the mastery of human anatomy and pathophysiology and the acquisition of a palette of clinical skills that you will grow over the years, lies the precious core of medicine-people. Your classmates, residents, staff physicians and most notably, your patients. Each person you will work with and care for is someone who is travelling a journey in life. Endeavour to ask and learn about a piece of their unique journey. Their years of experience offer insight into some of life’s most profound lessons. Treasure these pearls of wisdom. You will not only gain fortitude from one another, but also nourish bonds that will carry you throughout your lives.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. Your humility and compassion, expressed through deeds, words, and your smile, may be the one thing that will get someone through their day.