Getting rejected from every Canadian school I applied to was gut wrenching. I know I am not alone in the feelings of rejection, but in that exact moment it feels like there isn’t anyone in the world who understands what you’re going through. I had a million thoughts running through my brain all at once but the most looming question of all: now what?
In the face of rejection there are SO many intrusive thoughts that run through your brain. Why didn’t they like me? Is it that they don’t think I’ll make a good doctor? Am I really not meant to be a physician? Could it be that one of my biggest goals was all a waste, and this is never going to be something I get to do? The not-knowing was the worst part of all of it, and none of the schools I applied to offered any application feedback at that stage in the cycle, so I was left alone to my own swirling self-doubt.
I don’t think I told many people at first. Whether that was me feeling a bit embarrassed or subconsciously hoping that a school would call me out of the blue and tell me they sent me the WRONG letter, and I actually WAS accepted…we don’t know. I had such a supportive group of family, friends, and co-workers and it almost felt like I had let them down in a way. Everyone was so excited for me and I had nothing to show for my work. Did I just go back to work and pretend like nothing happened? Maybe everyone forgot that you even wanted to go to school? No, no, that wouldn’t work Jess, you work in the OR, you are literally surrounded by your dream everyday, you can’t ignore this one away.
After a solid couple days of crying, feeling like an utter failure and debating changing my entire life and career around (despair makes you do crazy things…like apparently order LSAT prep books and plan out your new life of trying to go to law school instead since clearly everyone thinks you’ll make a terrible doctor), I got up, hit my lil super hero pose (Grey’s fans, IYKYK) and sat down to figure out my plan of what I was going to do next. I had a few options pop up into my brain right away, each with it’s own list of anxiety inducing bullet points.
Obvious number one point – apply again next year. But, even that came with a cascade of questions. What would make them like me any more next year? It’s not like I was enrolled in a Master’s program or in the middle of a big research project…something I could add onto my resume and perhaps come off a bit more appealing. Unless…did I seriously consider applying to a Master’s? Something that would make me look more streamlined on an application?
I didn’t love the idea. Did I really want to pursue a Master’s degree, or did I just feel like I needed one in order to be noticed? What would I even apply to? How long would that take to complete while trying to continue working? Did I really want to spend another $20k+ on even more school? And again, what happens if I did all of this and at the end of the day they STILL didn’t want me? How many years would I be stuck in this guessing game of “maybe they’ll like me if I just do xy and z.”
Another option, albeit scary, was looking elsewhere for schools. I had friends who had gone to medical schools in the Caribbean, Ireland and Australia, so I knew it was possible. I had done years of reading into Caribbean schools, attended info seminars, and gained one of the most supportive and amazing friendships I’ve ever had through asking a random stranger on the internet about her school experience.
Complete side bar: while I hate the internet 90% of the time, I’m actually so happy every day for the randomness that it is, and how some of the most chance interactions can turn into some of the most amazing friendships. Especially when dealing with the many unknowns of medical school in another country, there’s a very small niche of people who completely get it. So to find someone who completely gets every struggle and thought you’re going through because they themselves also went through the same experiences…it’s such a great feeling to truly feel understood and heard. Also hella motivational to watch them graduate, match, and make their dream a reality as a physician.
Was this really something I could consider? Just up and moving across the world for school? There was large list of pros and cons….with the con side holding some pretty heavy points. The financial burden was astronomical. Not only was the tuition in USD, but it was just such a scary number to look at, even without any of the extra fees of living added on. This brought in even MORE doubt. What if I do this but can’t find a job afterwards, then I’m stuck with this giant $300k+ debt to pay off? This is a very real fear that I still deal with daily to be honest, but I try to keep those feelings at bay because if you go down that “what if” rabbit hole too deeply, it can be hard coming back. Plus, thinking about what will happen 3 years from now has no benefit to me continuing to work my ass off to succeed. Acknowledging that there is more risk involved definitely lights a fire and keeps me very focused on my goal, but that’s as deeply as I can let those thoughts in.
Another addition to the cons list was being accepting of the fact that I may not match back into Canada at the end of it all. Of course it’s nice to match (get a residency position) close to your home, but I was open to the opportunities that working elsewhere could bring. Especially with being so interested in surgery right off the bat. Now this isn’t a Canada vs US post, so if you have more specific questions about that type of thing, feel free to message me and I can try to answer any questions you may have or point you in the right direction.
Even though there were some huge points against going to a school outside of Canada, the biggest ‘pro’ I had on my list seemed to outweigh everything else:
You have the chance to become a physician.
Everyone’s motivations are different, and of course several factors come into play, but this goal was a number one priority to me, and I knew I was going to do whatever I had to in order to make that a reality.
Upon further research into the various locations for schools, I decided on pursuing the Caribbean route. It would allow me to have my clinical rotations in the US as well as Canada, so that made me feel a bit better being even a tiny bit closer to home. Australia would be cool but the amount of things that can kill you there frankly terrified me, and I was quite unfamiliar with how I would eventually get BACK to Canada, if that was even an option. Ireland was another option that had amazing potential, especially for those interested in pursuing surgery, but unfortunately because I didn’t have organic chemistry I was only eligible for their six year entry route, which I was less keen on when I knew there were other options available.
Once I committed to the idea in my head I had to try and narrow down the schools I wanted to apply to. And once I finished wanting to throw up after seeing how much some of those schools charged for tuition…I narrowed my list down even more. (Rhymes with $500k…yikes.)
Saba University School of Medicine was on my short list, as I had friends who had gone there, and had attended enough seminars for it to probably be a presenter myself. It was expensive, but on the cheaper end for international programs. It was a small, safe island with smaller class sizes (both very important to me), a good Step 1 pass rate and a high match rate. It also had three start dates a year, so if I DID end up getting accepted, I wouldn’t have to wait a whole year to start. The only pitfall: they also had some science pre-requisite courses but unlike with some other schools, this time it mentioned that “exceptions will be made on an individual basis.” Maybe my messy degree will finally be enough to move me forward.
I talked it over with my friends who had been/still were students there and thought, what the hell. If I don’t get in, then I’ll continue my plan and apply back into Canada again next cycle and take things one step at a time. This was going to happen one way or another.
So I filled out the application (a bit nicer experience than my Canadian application process) and felt a tiny pinch of déjà vu as I held my breath and hit submit…again.