It has been a while since my last post and I apologize, but the reason is because I recently started medical school so for the past couple weeks I have been busy moving, settling in, participating in orientation week, and going to class.
In this post I will primarily focus on my own experience in medical school so far after an initial week of class rather than providing advice.
Orientation Week, Make Friends Quick but Reflect Slowly!
For those wondering, I am living in the city of Toronto and am attending the University of Toronto (UofT) medical school. Our first day of class was August 27, but the week prior we had what was known as Orientation Week (O-Week). This is essentially what many other schools call their “frosh week”, where we participate in ice breaker activities, familiarize ourselves with the campus, and attempt to make friends with our colleagues who we will be with for at least the next four years. For me personally, O-Week was amazing. I met so many great people in my program, and quickly built strong connections with these individuals in the process . The activities we had planned were fun, and there was tons of free food and merchandise, which is great when you are entering the realm of being a very poor student.
O-Week started off with us checking in to our main lecture hall area and getting a kit which contained some of the essentials for the week, as well as some equipment and merchandise we ordered in advance like lab gloves, a dissection kit, and Faculty of Medicine hoodies. The coordinators instructed the students to be there between 8am-10am. I planned the night before on getting there early to get a good start to my career, but with complete disregard for commencing my career correctly, I hit snooze on my alarm countless times. As a result I had to power walk down University Ave at record pace to get there right for the 10am deadline – I guess some habits take some time to break.
I won’t bore you with the details, but we had a few talks where people told us congratulations, explained what was going on during the week, and then we got what everyone was waiting for – our med backpacks. Honestly, I was not a huge fan of our med backpack colour this year, it’s a dark Red. At the same time, it could have been worse – could’ve been bright pink or highlighter yellow. I was never really planning on using the med backpack much, but during the summer my actual backpack started to break down and the med backpack they gave us is very functional. So as a poor student, I will take all the free gear I can get and so am using it.
After getting our backpacks, we had some icebreaker games to get to know other people well, and surprisingly I was in a group led by the same med student I had met during my interview process at UofT. I had a good vibe with the person, and they were very helpful during the interview to talk with. Thankfully they remembered me from the interview day, otherwise that would’ve been kind of awkward, and even now I still bug them for random pieces of advice.
The night of the first O-Week day we had what was known as the Stethoscope ceremony. This was a ceremony in which the dean and many other heads of our faculty welcomed us not only to UofT, but also to the field of medicine. At this point it is all starting to feel a bit more real. At the end of the ceremony we all had to recite an oath which essentially said that we would forever care for our patients, something we would again recite at convocation when we graduate in 4 years. Throughout the ceremony, while being extremely hungry, I remember thinking “wow this is really happening right now”, and I had time to reflect upon my journey so far, and all the people who have helped me get there. So warning, self-reflection alert.
When trying to get into medical school many of us get lost in a sea of checking off boxes to look like a good applicant many forget that at the end of the day, they’re looking for well-rounded people that will serve the community well. Many also forget that no one makes it on their own without support. Everyone gets a variable amount of support, with some having access to more social and financial support than others, but at the end of the day, there were always friends and family that helped you get to where you are. In my opinion it is always important to remember that, and to be humble about where you are. I can say without a hitch that I did not make it here alone. My family supported me throughout my life, and they did everything they could to provide me with the best so I could pursue my passion, and I am forever indebted to them. My friends in undergrad were always by my side. They not only helped me through interviews by practicing with me, and editing my essays, and telling me all the flaws in myself so I was more aware of them, but they honestly thought that I could be a great physician, so they supported me every step of the way. In the process sometimes I would forget this, but after getting my acceptance letter, it was solidified and forever ingrained in my mind. They were so very happy for me, and all went above and beyond to show how they thought I deserved it. That is what made the summer before medical school one of the best, I was able to reflect on the great friends I had made in my undergrad experience. The immense amount of praise I received, along with requests to see people before I left, and surprise gifts like an amazing toaster oven and kettle, showed me through actions that I had made a solid group of friends.
So for me, the best part of O-Week was not just meeting new faces, or participating in fun activities, or overnight camping with many questionable beverages, it was instead the time it gave me to reflect on my journey so far, and on what lies ahead. It provided solidification for the fact that yes in fact I am in medicine, a field centered on respect for others and demonstrating empathy. I believe these qualities are key to not only being a great physician, but a good overall human being.
The First Days of Class
After an exhausting O-Week, which consisted of an average of 4 hours of sleep per night, and an absurd amount of pizza and beverage intake per day, we had our first day of class on Monday August 27. To bring it all back to my first O-Week day, I woke up late, and was in a rush to get to school to not be late (more work is still needed to kick this habit). We started our first day of class with a 40 question multiple choice test. This test, while not worth marks, gave us a feel for the types of questions they would ask us and how the tests logistically work. Following the test we then had 3 lectures back to back, each an hour. After lectures we had an hour presentation on how to do well in medical school, with pizza, and we finished the day with a case-based learning (CBL) session which lasted about 2.5 hours. For those that do not know CBL is essentially where we break up into small groups of about 8-12 people and we are given a specific case which we work through. Cases include situations such as a patient coming into the doctor and going through their history, family information, and physical examination to then determine a differential diagnosis. We are given a series of questions to answer from the case, and from the experience they hope we learn by doing and discussing.
Some things that struck out to me as different in medical school as opposed to undergrad when it came to material and lectures is that the pace is generally much faster. Along with the elevated pace there is, and I cannot emphasize this enough, a lot of material to know. Most of the material that we learn is also taught in an exploratory self-learning manner. We do have lectures, however, the bulk of the content we learn comes through our e-learning modules which we navigate on our own and to have good understanding of requires supplementation with your own research. A lot of the content is also learned through exploration either from our CBL sessions with other students in our groups, or through exploration of the human body in our anatomy labs which are also group based. I was told many times before that there is a lot of content in medical school, but I always thought it was an exaggeration until my first day. Another key difference from undergrad is that you cannot cram material for an exam and then forget after the test is done, and this is because everything you are taught is pertinent to your future career so will reappear in future evaluations. When people would tell me “don’t study like you did in undergrad”, up until this point I somewhat disregarded it, since I did not understand the full extent, but when you are shot with enough material to blow your brains out, and in a class with peers who have an average GPA of 3.96 out of 4.0 it makes you realize you need to do something different since all my colleagues are all very bright individuals, and we are all average now. A very awesome part of medical school though is that everything is pass or fail. The threshold for a pass differs per medical school and per class, but for UofT intro to medicine classes the passing grade is a 74% and the raw grade does not show up on your transcript when applying to residency programs. A positive consequence from this is that you can focus on learning for learning, and take care of yourself throughout your experience and not continue to kill yourself to get that high 90% like you did in undergrad.
One of my favourite parts of class thus far has to have been the anatomy lab. UofT med students are fortunate enough that we all get exposure to cadaveric dissection. We are placed in groups of 6-8 in our labs and each group gets 2 cadavers, a male and a female. The bodies were donated to us by the individuals and their families, and as a student I feel extremely honoured to have the opportunity to learn by exploring bodies. We had an intro session on our first week, and the anatomy director reiterated the importance and high expectations of respect that we must have for the bodies, such as refraining from using our phones, since they did not consent to having their photos taken. I fully understand and agree with the rules they have put forward since these were individuals, and we are fortunate enough that they were willing to donate their bodies to assist us, with no benefit to themselves, so the absolute least we could do is respect them.
My undergraduate experience did not provide me with much hands-on anatomy exposure, so my anatomy is definitely on the weaker side, but being in the lab and working with models, and prosections allows me to really see what I am learning about and helps me solidify the information, and so far I am loving it!
Overall I would say my classes so far have been very interesting. Everything is disease-oriented which I am enjoying, and while I definitely have a lot to memorize, it is exactly what I want to learn about, so really, I can’t complain. While I am in class and learning I sometimes remember where I am and feel continuously blessed and privileged to be at my institution and have the opportunity to be educated in this field.
Professionalism, a Common Theme
Throughout my first week, and in O-Week there was a common theme that I noticed, the importance of professionalism. Medicine is a well respected field, and physicians perform procedures on individuals in vulnerable positions or situations. In order to ensure the best outcomes, patients need to trust their physicians. To ensure trust in the physician’s job, professionalism in how they present and conduct themselves is vital, and this is something that has been repeated to myself throughout my time so far. This is something that I thought about, but prior to actually being in medical school, did not think would be as drastic of a hit until I started. I agree on the importance of professionalism and presenting yourself well, but unfortunately with the way the world is moving, and the presence of social media, professional life does not end at 5pm, or when you take off the white coat. We are reminded that even in our off time, even as we travel on the subway home, even at 1am when we are asleep, we are in, and representing the medical field.
If you are considering medicine, the lack of divide between personal and professional life is something you should take into consideration. While this is not exclusive to medicine, it is extremely prevalent in medicine. I knew about it at a surface level but it was never actually brought to my attention as a huge deal, I figured it would be a big deal once you are actually in residency and have a job, so it being repeated to me several times in a span of a week really woke me up to the reality of the situation. Being careful about what you post on social media, or what others post of you, is vital since you never know who is looking at it, and how they interpret it. Doing a keg-stand on a degenerate weekend cottage outing could be a lot of fun, but someone posting it on Facebook could put you in a world of professional trouble if your patient sees it a couple days before their surgery and questions your ability to perform these vital procedures on them.
Once again, for the most part, most individuals should be fine, and there still is a level of tolerance on social media, but it is something that I believe is good to be more cautious about, since posting on social media for a few likes is not as important as maintaining your professional appearance.
So that is my experience in medical school so far. At this point most people have written or gotten their scores back for their MCAT so I will move on from MCAT advice and try to open it up to what is more pertinent, OMSAS applications. I apologize if there are large delays between posts, I will try my best to keep up a consistent posting schedule, however, with school picking up I may have less time available, but I will attempt to make sure you guys aren’t waiting too long between posts. Thanks a lot for reading, and I hope this helped give you some perspective about what medical school is like so far for me.