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Schools + Stigma

Schools + Stigma

Hey guys, welcome back. Just finished up another round of block exams this week which means there’s only one more full block to get through until finals! How did that happen? Even though the days sometimes seem to drag on, the weeks have flown by, and I can’t believe I’ll be done another semester in a month.

Before I get into this week’s post, I just wanted to pose a question to the void of who ever is reading this. Have you been enjoying the Scenic Route to MD so far? I sincerely hope you have, and that it has maybe put some perspective into the nuances of medical school. I’d love to get your feedback! Head to the CONTACT page and let me know your thoughts, or what you’d like to see in future posts. 😊

Last week I talked about the not-at-all-stressful process of applying and getting accepted to my school’s pre-med semester program, which would then matriculate into the Med program. After initially hearing about this program, I wanted to look up some more information about it. What was this “pre-med” program, was it just a more expensive version of undergrad science courses? Will this really help me in future semesters?

So the Gateway Medical Program, or GMP, is a 14 week course that is essentially designed to help those who may have either struggled throughout their sciences classes, not completed some of the science pre-requisites (hi, it’s me), or had a completely non-science based degree all together. It has 4 classes taken simultaneously: Clinical Anatomy, Cell and Molecular Biology, Medical Physiology, and Principles of Medicine. After reading the descriptions, it sounded like a refresher course from a lot of schooling I had already completed over the years. I was a little nervous for the molecular biology course, as that was never my strong suit in undergrad but it’s fine. You’re older, more mature, more focused and way more determined than you’ve ever been – you can do this.

I started to get more and more excited as the start date grew closer but still had a list of boxes to slowly check off before then. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of time commitment. Could I still work? I had/have a casual position at the hospital which was nice, so I had a bit more freedom in terms of how many hours I was locked into. I had a goal of working a few times a month so I could still have some sort of income coming in, plus I had a student loan for the semester. Which, for the record, barely covers anything when you are going to school outside of Canada. (Debating doing a separate post on medical school finances, let me know if this is something you’d be interested in learning more about)

We had to fill out all the typical student paperwork, get a background check done, get some bloodwork done (kind of weird but oh well, easy enough). During this time, I was also in the process of leaving my cute little plant jungle apartment and moving in with my mom. Did I want to do it? No, especially since it had air-conditioning (sigh), but it was the responsible thing to do, even more so now that my income was about to drop to an average of $0 a month. Ugh.

Next was trying to figure out how to set up an at-home office. Since this was mid-pandemic and everything was shut down globally, our semester was being offered as an online option. Okay, this is fine, we can save some money on airfare and rent, and make our plan to move in December. (lol) A lot of my undergrad had been via distance, so the online concept wasn’t so wild to grasp. You have to be exceptionally self-sufficient, and it definitely takes some getting used to when figuring out online formatting. By this point in time, almost a year later I’m sure everyone has all but mastered the Work-From-Home or Zoom University approach to pandemic productivity, but there was definitely an initial learning curve to it.

I even took that time to upgrade my 10 yr old laptop to a new snazzy Microsoft Surface (absolutely love and cannot recommend enough – though I am very biased and hate Mac setups) on account that if my old laptop had more than two programs open at once, I was concerned she was going to burst into flames right there on my desk. RIP HP laptop, you got me through a crap ton of school, I hope you’re in a better place now.

Finally, the first day of classes was here. I felt like I was back in elementary school. Do I have to get ready and do my hair and makeup for this? It’s zoom. BUT it’s the first day, what if they make me have my camera on? What if it was like when Elle Woods hadn’t completed her summer reading and got called out in front of the whole class for not knowing anything? Was there something I should have studied this summer?

This brings me to an important side note. Please. And I repeat. Please DO NOT spend your last full summer of freedom studying. Don’t read the textbooks cover to cover. Don’t start “studying” your First Aid book for the USMLE. There is literally no point. (How can you study a review book if you haven’t even learned the content yet for an exam you have in 2 yrs?) Enjoy your time with family and friends because (especially for IMG schools) we don’t have a full summer off for the next four years. And then residency starts so…just…have fun.

Anyways. Orientation day was a lot of meeting the faculty, talking about the background of the school, all very typical orientation day things. Oh except it started at 5:30 am for me because of the time change. It’s fine, this is fine.  But don’t worry, it’s not like I slept a wink anyways. What if I missed my alarm? Then I would be the girl who missed her first day of school. Nope, best to stay awake all night and instead be the girl who looks like a zombie on day one, right?

After a quick lunch break, the MED1 and GMP classes broke off into their separate class groups. Now I got to see who was in my class. We started out with about 35 (ish) students. I was surprised with how many Canadians there were. It made me a bit sad to see how flawed our system is here that so many of us had to go outwards to pursue medicine, but also excited to have that little bit of familiarity.

Oh no, now one by one our professors were asking us to turn on our video and….talk about ourselves? The zoom anxiety was real. To this day I still hate speaking on zoom. Don’t ask me why. Sure, in an in-person classroom setting I’m not the most outgoing either, but for some reason Zoom just brought out the stress sweat.

The first few weeks flew by, and while there was a lot of review from things I had previously learned, it was an AMAZING refresher. Especially since some of those courses I hadn’t taken for a few years, and now it was all from a medicine perspective. Things were clicking, and it made me even more excited to continue this medicine journey.

I was beginning to have more people ask about school. Where was I going? What was I taking? It felt neat that people were interested. All these questions very harmless. But then I would also get a few of the follow-up off handed comments that again, I’m sure people don’t mean any harm by, but they sucked to hear.

 “Why would you go there instead of just going to medical school in Alberta?.”

Well, as many of you have seen from my earlier posts, I’m sure you’ve learned by now that “just” going to school in Canada isn’t as simple as some may think. It takes months and months of prep, money, time, and sometimes years before some are accepted – or not accepted. Of course my life would be easier if I went to a Canadian school. No IMG student is denying that. But to say that we ‘chose’ a MUCH harder and scarier path for fun is not only incorrect, it’s hurtful and makes it seem like it was as simple as choosing what to order for lunch.

“Is that even a real medical school?”

Do I even need to explain why this is NOT something you say to someone who is excited about getting into medical school? Just…don’t.

“I heard no one ever gets a job from those schools.”

Why thank you, kind friend for letting me know that amazingly useful information before I embark on this terrifyingly expensive and risky journey to achieve my life dream. Very useful. Trust me, everything you’ve heard through the grapevine, we have looked up tenfold. We know. We know it’s riskier. We know it’s harder to match into competitive specialities. Thank you for your feedback.

“Why would you spend that much money on medical school, just become a Nurse Practitioner.”

Well, while they have many similarities, nursing and medicine are completely different professions with completely different scopes of practice. Both are amazing careers, with pros and cons for each – but they are different.

“If you worked a bit harder you could have gotten into a Canadian school.”

Just going to go out on a limb here to say that if you are saying this to someone, you probably in fact have no clue about how hard someone has worked to get to where they are at. Extra courses, volunteer hours, shadow experience, entire Master’s degrees. Not to mention family, children, and work on top of that. And sometimes it still doesn’t work out, plain and simple. Saying these things imply that we didn’t work as hard to get into our school. It hurts.

So, if you’re reading this now and have someone close to you pursuing medicine, please do us a favor and refrain from asking these types of questions. If you are curious and have genuine questions, that’s fine. We know the IMG route isn’t as well known and are here to help answer those for you, but when you ask questions like the examples above, it diminishes our accomplishments and makes us feel more alone on an already exceptionally lonely journey.

Let’s also not forget about the super fun and not at all sexist questions of women wanting to pursue medicine. Some honorable mentions:

“Well how will you raise children if you are at a hospital all the time?”

“What does your husband think about you wanting to work so much?”

“Oh cool, you’ll want an easier specialty I’m assuming, so you can still have time to watch the kids?”

Sorry, almost eye-rolled myself into another universe. Can we make an agreement, right here and now to stop saying these things to students, and women especially. Our whole existence isn’t designed solely to cater to husbands or children. We can do hard shit, we can accomplish amazing things. And we aren’t selfish for wanting to do those things. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. Okay great, thanks.

That being said, 98% of people around me have been beyond supportive and excited for me every step of the way, and I am so grateful for my cheering squad. But as we all know, the negative things unfortunately tend to stick in the back of our minds a bit more.

Once I got past the fact that I was probably going to receive these types of comments for the next few years of my life (or longer), I put them all to the back of my mind and kept pushing on with the GMP program. The program required hard work, but was very manageable. I was able to maintain a good routine outside of school and made sure I took proper rest and incorporated fitness into my daily life. (MED2 Jess is looking back on this time in envy). I still went into every exam feeling scared of failing, even though I knew I worked my ass off for my grades.

Finally, after the 14 weeks, it was time to officially find out about moving onto the next semester…REAL first semester medical school. My grades were quite good…no, very good, but I have always been the type of person who hesitates getting excited about things until it’s there in front of me and in writing. I also loooove to come up with hundreds of “what if” scenarios of why things won’t work out…something I am trying hard to work on. What if I didn’t hand in xyz form on time and they don’t let me in? What if they end up having too many applicants and you don’t make the cut?

At last, once the final grades had been calculated and posted, I received my unconditional acceptance and the excitement took over. One step closer to reaching my goal. Another semester from home.

Let’s do this.


1 Comment

  1. Auntie Elaine
    July 18, 2021 / 9:20 pm

    Hugs. Xoxox. You are an Amazing Human!

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