Class of 1T9: Advice for Incoming Students
Reflecting on the last four years of medical school, the Class of 1T9 share some of their best advice for incoming medical students.
Enter medicine with an open mind. Don’t worry about rushing into a speciality. Be open to all opportunities the come your way, regardless of what you’ve heard about them from others. This was how I and many of my colleagues found our passions. In pre-clerkship, one test score will not define the rest of your medical career, so don’t let it stress you out too much. Finally, make sure to make time for yourself outside of school, research and studying. You can only be at your best when you’re well, and whether that means taking the night off of studying, saying “no” to the next research project, or having a weekend getaway with colleagues, making that time will pay dividends for the days and weeks to come.
Be kind. These are words we are often taught from a very young age. Seems obvious, right? But in medical school with so many new challenges and experiences, it becomes even more important. First of all, be kind to yourself. Over the next four years there will be lots of fun times and wonderful memories. There will also be some difficult times and struggles. In those moments, know it’s okay to not be perfect. Show this kindness to your fellow classmates as well. Take advantage of the opportunity to build new friendships with the amazing people in your class. I remember being told during orientation week by our faculty, “life happens.” Reach out and support each other if difficult personal events do happen, you may not realize how much it means to someone. During medical school my grandmother passed away and my friends from school wrote me a card, put together a basket full of goodies, and made me a home cooked dinner. I cannot even put into words how much I appreciated it. Lastly, be kind to your patients. There will be people you meet who have incredibly inspiring, heartbreaking or unique stories. Take a few minutes to learn about them and who they are as people. What may be a routine day at work for you, could be one of the worst days of your patient’s life. As medical students we may not always know the patient’s diagnosis or treatment plan right away, but we can always show compassion and care.
Self-reflection and being honest with yourself is key. You know how to study and learn for exams. You know how to excel in research projects or community based projects. But understanding your emotions and feelings as you progress through various stages of your medical training is not as easy as it sounds. Being able to take time every so often to check in with how your anxiety or mood is doing is so critical. And if there is an imbalance to make it a priority to get help - whether that be seeing a professional or reaching out to your personal network. Do not be afraid to confide in your friends that you are struggling. Chances are, they are too. Some of the best revelations and breakthroughs I have had in difficult periods of my life have come from conversations where everyone is being honest with where they are at. There are going to be amazing highs but also lows, and making sure you checking in at all times is extremely critical.
Medical school is not medicine. Though first and second year are important bridges from the non-medical to the medical world, it is important to keep the end goal in mind, which is to find a job that will make you happy. I would advise incoming students who are unsure of what they want to do, to shadow as much as possible in as many places as possible and find the specialty that energizes them. If I could go back, I would set aside a day a week for shadowing and arrange short observerships outside of Toronto. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that this would have been the highest yield use of my time.
Embrace the change. Medical school inherently comes with vast changes in life, identity and situations you are thrown into. Embrace it and enjoy it all. It will be the ride of your life.
I recommend going to all of orientation week. It is exhausting but worth it. When I first moved to Toronto, I didn’t know a single person in the city, but O-Week was a great way to meet people. Many of the friends I made during that week ended up being my close friends throughout medical school, and a few ended up as bridesmaids at my wedding.
Medical school can be daunting but it is truly an incredible experience. Try to remember to enjoy this time. You have the privilege of learning from world experts and faculty who are excited to teach, of taking care of patients at critical points in their lives, and to explore all of what medicine has to offer. Try not to stress about picking a specialty early on, it will happen with time. Just focus on the here and now, you’ll be surprised by the journey you will take and how fast it will go by. Try to savour the moment.
Become involved in activities you’re passionate about, whether it’s intramural teams, student publishing (plug for Toronto Notes), ArtBeat or research. Toronto is unique in the sense that there’s an outlet for every activity—you’ll always find someone who shares your interest.
A friend of mine passed on advice before I started clerkship that I found very grounding—to always ask myself: 1) What does my patient need? and 2) How can I best contribute to my team? Coming back to these questions through different rotations while navigating applications and exams brought perspective and focus back to the most rewarding aspects of clerkship and medicine.
Be nice to everyone. Shadow early to figure out what you are interested in. Though you’ve made it through the first step – getting into med school – you now have the much more important question to answer: what kind of doctor will you become?
Medical school is just the beginning of our career as lifelong learners. We learn a lot in medical school and sometimes the volume can be overwhelming. However, no one expects you to know everything – we honestly have our whole career ahead of us to continue to learn! As a medical student, be curious and enjoy the process.
Support each other! Seriously, medical school challenges everyone. It may not seem like it on the surface, as many people conduct themselves with confidence and composure, but your classmates are facing the same academic stress and challenges that you are enduring. On top of the academic rigour, life always finds a way to add to your stress and challenge your strength at a deeper level. You are all in this together. Do not be afraid to speak to others and lend a helping hand to your peers!
Stay well-rounded! Don’t let school consume your hobbies and interests and don’t let school be your only focus in life. Don’t define yourself by the experiences listed on your CV. Make time for your friends and family and seek new activities outside of the ‘med school bubble.’
Stay organized and keep on top of the workload
Reflect. Time seems to move quickly when you are busy. Take moments to pause, remember where you are, what you are working towards and stay true to yourself.
In third-year, go home when your resident tells you to. Don’t feel guilty/pressured to stay later than expected. Also, utilizing your post-call days to catch up on real life tasks is key.
Take the time to explore your interests outside of the classroom. Through extracurriculars, shadowing, research and volunteer work, there lies the opportunity to seek mentorship, develop your career goals and begin to shape your future practice. For students interested in advocacy opportunities, I would highly recommend getting involved with the Ontario Medical Students Association (OMSA) and the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS). Through OMSA and CFMS, I worked with medical students from across the country who used their voice to advocate for change. Some of my advocacy initiatives with these organizations include medical student wellness, climate change mitigation and supporting student-parents in undergraduate medical education.
Keep an open mind throughout clerkship even if you identify a clinical area of interest early on. I entered clerkship with a strong interest in Medical Oncology, but I also unexpectedly enjoyed my clinical experiences in Surgical Oncology, Cancer Psychiatry, and Palliative Medicine very much. These specialities also make a huge impact on the daily lives of oncology patients, and I am grateful to have met inspiring teachers and physician role models in all these specialties who I would love to collaborate with clinically or in research one day.
Absurd to think I know,
what advice to bestow;
Mature as fourth year may be,
endless knowledge yet to see;
To homage thy wise, short, stellar, green master,
do I shall do, for try is no such matter;
To ensure humble and kind word-landing,
please know I am no Frederick Banting;
Before ending this dyad word-stream,
share I must share just one more small theme;
Lonesome if one and burdensome if three,
wholesome if two, so two advice it be;
Support we neglect are the challenges we endure,
so help we must offer and always, always procure;
Falling bruises thine ego and elbow,
Failure today is pleasure tomorrow.