Sunday, 30 June 2013

MedTalk Series: It's Not Just About The Money: Why Scholarships are Important

A reader recently emailed me this question:
"While you were a premed, did you apply and win awards and scholarships? I was wondering if the awards and the scholarships help boost the ABS? "

The answer to the first part of this question is "Yes" - during my high school as well as undergrad, I had applied to many awards and scholarships and was fortunate enough to be the recipient of quite a few of them.

The answer to the second part of the question is that while scholarships enable students to fund their education, the other underlying advantage to applying (and winning) a scholarships is that it can also help shed a positive light on one's application for professional school - in this case, medical school.

For anyone who has applied for scholarships and awards in the past, you would know that the application process can sometimes be very long and detailed depending on the prestige and amount that the scholarship is offering. The point of scholarships is to award those applicants who've fulfilled its criteria, whether it be volunteering a certain number of hours, achieving a certain GPA, making a difference in the community etc. These eligibility criteria all showcase an applicant's initiative in their academic and/or social life which can further support and validate one's achievements when applying for professional school. For instance, if you were part of a student association and made a large impact for that association or even for your school at large, having won a scholarship that recognized your work would further help your interviewers see the kind of person you are - one that is hard working and concerned about his/her school community. It can also showcase your ability to juggle your academics and extra-curriculars which is also an important trait that most medical school interviewers look for. Winning scholarships also gives one the ability to speak about their achievements during the interview process.

On the OMSAS application, there is a section whereby applicants can indicate if they've won any awards and if they did, the size of the applicant pool. Depending on the prestige of the scholarship/award, the competition might be very large or small. Even if one didn't win a scholarship and only ended up as a finalist/semi-finalist, it is important to indicate this as it shows that you had taken the initiative to apply for the award and advanced in the selection process. If you had won the scholarship, then the size of the applicant pool gives the interviewers can idea of how difficult it was to win that scholarship which can work in your favour during the interview process.

One thing I haven't talked about is research awards. Most students are aware of NSERC but there are also various research grants/funding offered by the department that you're carrying out your research, by major companies/government organizations (ex: Heart and Stroke Foundation). Furthermore, various hospitals offer summer research studentships that pay students to do research in an academic hospital. Depending on the medical school that you are applying to, the reviewers might look heavily on whether or not you have any research experience. Thus, having any sort of research award/grant/bursary would enhance your application.

When applying for scholarships:

Know your Strengths

  • Do you very high grades?
  • Do you play any sports?
  • Do you write plays? act? dance?
  • Do you do many extra-curricular activities?
  • Are you part of any student associations? unions? governing councils?
  • Do you volunteer anywhere? hospitals? senior homes? day cares?
  • Can you speak more than one language?
You get the point. By knowing your strengths, it will be easier to narrow down which scholarships you can apply for. 

Know your Resources

If you're a high school student, try speaking to your guidance counsellor about where to look for scholarships. It's their job to assist you in looking for awards and scholarships for post-secondary schools. They also usually have a binder full of various awards that students can apply for.

If you're a university student, your Registrar as well as Academic/Career Centre should also have the necessary resources for you to find the various scholarships that your university has to offer. Often times, your Registrar's website should show the various scholarships available for each department and its deadline so be on the lookout for these.

Another resource one may look into is your parents' company/organization that they work for. Sometimes, awards and scholarships are available only to the children of employees.

A good website to look for scholarships is

Prepare in Advance

The worst thing that can happen is you find a scholarship that you think you would be the ideal candidate for but you miss the deadline. Scholarships often have a lot of requirements and paperwork that one must submit such as transcripts, reference letters, and essays that you must write. These all take time to get into order especially for documents out of your control (ex: reference letters). Thus, it is imperative to prepare ahead of time to make sure that you don't miss the deadline. Also, keep in mind whether the scholarship can be submitted via email or regular mail as mailing it in can take some time and this can also impact whether or not your application is received by the deadline.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

What Should You Do The Summer Before Medical School?

Medicine is a life long journey - a marathon and not a sprint. Within the first week of medical school, you'll probably be bombarded with so much material akin to that of a fire hose of water being shot at you. With this in mind, it's important to utilize the 3 months before medical school to relax, pursue your interests, and to tie up loose ends. 

1. Getting Your Paperworks in Order

As the excitement of getting that acceptance email/letter dies down, now it's time to get the logistics of getting settled into medical school in order. Many medical schools will send a lot of paperwork that you must fill out in order to enroll in their classes. Check your acceptance letter and see what kinds of forms need to be filled in, picked up, and submitted. I believe all medical schools will require a police check which can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks so make sure to get this done as soon as possible. Updated immunization records are often required as well especially with TB testing and Hepatitis B vaccinations. Some schools also send scholarship information/applications so be sure to apply for these if the deadline is during the summer months.

2. Living Arrangements

Whether you are in the city or moving across the country, finding a place to live during your medical schooling is going to be a task that one has to look into as soon as possible. There are many questions to consider when finding a place and deciding what kind of a living arrangement you'd want to have:
  • Do you want to live by yourself or with a roommate?
  • How far from school would you be willing to live/commute?
  • What is your budget for rent? Many places near campus and a busy downtown core can range anywhere from $800-$1700
  • Do you want to live in a condo? apartment? townhouse? on campus housing? basement apartments?
  • What furniture do you need to buy/transport?
  • What are the lease requirements? Are you able to sublet your place?
3. Finances

Medical school is expensive. Combined with tuition costs, rent, groceries, bills and other miscellaneous spendings, a medical student's debt can quickly accumulate. Thus, it is important to see what types of financial aid is available at the medical school you are going to. When do they give out bursaries? Are there  any applications involved? What scholarships are available and when does one apply for them? What types of government loan programs are available in the province that you're attending the medical school? Can you transfer loans from one province to another? 

Most students will be applying for a Professional Student Line of Credit. In Canada, some of the most popular banks that students use for their LOCs include RBC, ScotiaBank, and TD. Depending on the branch, most will require a Proof of Enrollment which the school can provide. Others sometimes only require your acceptance letter/email. Most students set their LOCs up in the summer in order to access the funds that they will require in order to put a down deposit on a place, for vacation, etc.

Other students will also choose to work during the summer in order to  alleviate some of the costs of medical school. Whatever the case, figuring out how you will be funding your medical school education is something to look into during the summer months.

4. See the World

I've been asked by some of my friends who've gotten into medical school this year whether or not they should be studying and preparing ahead for the material being taught in medical school. DO NOT STUDY! You will have more than enough studying opportunities once medical school starts. I'd highly recommend travelling and seeing the world. This is one of the few summers left in which you'll have 3 months of freedom to do anything and go anywhere in the world.Take advantage of this! 

5. Finishing Up Old Projects

The start of medical school is really a new journey that you'll embark on. If you're in the midst of finishing up a research project, try finishing that up in the summer before school starts. Have a paper you need to write? Try to do it and submit it before school starts. This way, you've tied up all your "loose ends" so to speak and it'll feel like a fresh start once medical school begins.

6. Spending Time With Family

I never realized how much of my time medical school ate up until this year. Even though I lived about 1.5 hours away from my family and still visited them every weekend, I still often missed them. I'm fortunate enough to at least be able to see them once a week whereas some of my colleagues who moved from a different province only had holidays to go back home. Thus, use this summer to spend time with your family and friends. 

Congratulations to the newly admitted medical students! 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

1/4 MD

I officially finished my last exam of my first year of medical school yesterday which makes me able to declare that I am 25% done my MD! It's a strange feeling knowing that a year has already passed and I've learned so much (how much I'm going to retain when second year hits is debatable) both inside and outside of the classroom. My first year of medical school definitely had its ups and down with me moving out of my parent's house and living on my own for the first time, the death of my grandmother, and integrating into a new environment. Needless to say,  I've met some pretty stellar people in medical school who've made this transition a lot easier.

Here are some of the interesting "things"/"quirks" of medical school:

  1. Stock up on binders - preferably the bigger, the better - you'll have so many notes that at the end of the year you're going to wonder how in the world you managed to study everything.
  2. Pass/Fail is my saving grace
  3. Our feedback about the curriculum seriously matters and causes change
  4. Clinical skills are my favourite part of medical school. My stethoscope, BP cuff, reflex hammer, tuning forks, penlight, and vision card make me feel like a doctor but in actuality, I still have so much to learn
  5. When looking for a place, telling the landlord that you're a "medical student" would almost seal you the deal (and sometimes even score you a discount in the rent!)
  6. Medical students party a lot more than I thought - but we still manage to squeeze in studying
  7. Everyone is so helpful in the class - creating flow charts, providing journal articles to clarify ideas, and much much more. I love my classmates
  8. There are always going to be the gunners in the class who are aiming for ROADS. 
  9. There is always going to be 1-2 people who ALWAYS ask questions during class
  10. Weboptioned lectures are also my saving grace - it gives me the flexibility of 1) sleeping in 2) shadowing 3) watching lectures on 1.5X-2X repeat to get twice the amount of work done 
  11. I love how all the medical students across Canada get the same coloured backpacks so we can automatically identify our friends/colleagues. My friend was actually identified by a senior medical student with his backpack when we were vacationing in the Bahamas this year! Talk about a small world.
And that's a wrap for first year! I can't wait to see what second year has in store but until then, it's summer vacation for me!

Monday, 20 May 2013

What Kind of Reader Are You?

Hi Everyone,
It's be awhile since this blog has seen any posts but as the school year is winding down, I hope to be writing a bit more frequently. To help me get a sense of this blog's demographics, I'd appreciate if you fill out the poll below in order to help me know what content I should be writing about.

What kind of reader are you?

Saturday, 16 March 2013

MedTalk Series - Medical School Interviews

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any medical admissions/interviewing committee and as such, the advice and suggestions listed below are my own  and should only be used as a guideline for your own interviews. Please be advised that I have not and will not disclose any of my own interview questions due to confidentiality.

CONGRATULATIONS! If you're reading this post, then chances are that you have gotten an invitation to interview for medical school! This is a huge accomplishment in itself as you are one step closer to getting into medical school. The question now remains - how do you impress your interviewers and show them that you are the ideal candidate for their medical school? As a first year medical student, I know the stress and anxiety that comes with interview preparations as I myself was in your shoes just last year.

Before The Interview

Review Your Application

You spent months perfecting your application to medical school and no doubt the admissions committee saw something in that application that made them want to give you an interview. As such, you should be reviewing  all the extracurricular activities and achievements you listed in that application as the interviewers will most likely ask questions based on these things. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What characteristics/skills did I develop from these activities and how will they make me a great medical student/future physician?
  • What did you learn from these experiences? Did it highlight any strengths? weaknesses? If it was a negative experience, how did you handle it?
  • Why did you pursue the activities that you did and what does this say about you as a person?
There are also the inevitable questions such as:

  • Why do you want to be a doctor? Why not a nurse?
  • Why medicine?
You should already have a coherent answer to these questions if you're serious about applying to medical school.

Furthermore, medical school interviews are meant for the interviewers to get to know YOU. Thus, questions that enable the interviewers to gauge what kind of a person you are will most likely be asked. Consider the following questions:

  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a time you were stressed and how you handled it.
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?

Find Out More About The Medical School

In my opinion, a medical school interview is just like a job interview. Whereby for a job interview you are convincing your potential employer that you are the right person for the job and that the company is the right fit for you, similarly, you want to convince your medical school interviewer(s) that you would be their ideal medical student and that their program would be the right fit for your learning style and personality. As such, spend a bit of time researching the medical school you'll be interview at. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you are finding out more about the medical school:

  • What is the curriculum like? Is it semestered? Is it in blocks? Is it longitudinal?
  • What facilities are available for medical students? What observorship/mentorship programs are available to students? What types of research opportunities are available?
  • What's the division between PBL and didactic learning styles?
  • How much exposure do students get on the wards in their preclerkship years?
It's also important to ask yourself whether or not you would be happy at the medical school if you were accepted. Would you be content with moving to that city? Could you see yourself living there in the long term? These questions are just as important to consider when preparing for your interviews

Ethical Scenarios and Current News

While I know that many students read "Doing Right" in preparation for their interviews, I actually found that it didn't help me. The basic key points to keep in mind when answering ethical scenarios is to always consider both sides of the argument rather than giving an absolute answer. This way, it shows the interviewers that you are considering the pros and cons of the situation. Keep in mind the concepts of Autonomy, Beneficence, Non-Maleficence, and Justice. A good resource that I found useful when preparing for those trickier ethical questions (ex: religious implications for medical treatment, euthanasia, abortion etc.) was the CMAJ Bioethics for Clinician Series 

It's also a good idea to have a general sense of the major issues affecting the healthcare system. Andre Picard from The Globe and Mail has some great columns. The latest Drummond Report is also a good read (but by no means necessary).

Practice Practice Practice...But Not Too Much

Ask your friends, professors, mentors, and family members to help you with your interviews. It's also a good idea to see if your university organizes any mock interviews. However, I would not recommend over-preparing for the interview as this can make your answers sound rehearsed and not genuine which can have a negative effect rather than a positive effect. 

Interview Day

Interview day can be very stressful and a million thoughts are probably racing through your head. I have listed some suggestions of what I did to keep myself level-headed (or relatively at least) on my interview day:

  1. Smile. Whether it be meeting other interviewees, current medical students, and interviewers, a smile can go a long way.
  2. Don't be fazed by how many interviews other candidates have. I know this is easier said than done but just know that the fact that you made it to the interview stage means that you are just as good as the other candidates and you shouldn't be doubting yourself.
  3. Don't be afraid to ask questions! During orientation, a lot of current medical students as well as staff will be around to answer any concerns and/or questions you may have. This is your chance to find out more about the school (if you still had any questions) and to really see if the school is the right fit for you.
  4. I've heard a lot about "cold" interviews whereby the interviewers show absolutely no facial expression. Don't let this faze you as this could be a tactic to see how well you think under pressure. Just smile and answer the question to the best of your abilities. 
  5. If you need clarification on a question, or a bit of time to think about your answer, don't hesitate to ask! It's always better to answer a question the right way rather than answering a question you thought they asked you. It's also good to pause and think about your responses as this enables you to gather your thoughts and speak coherently.
  6. If you don't know the answer to a question , don't be afraid to say so. I remember doing this in my own interview and I don't believe that it negatively affected me in anyway. It's better to be honest about not knowing a concept/event/issue than trying to answer it ambiguously. 
  7. Most interviews will end with "Do you have any questions?" It's always a good idea to have one question on hand as this shows your interest in the school and highlights that you actually did your research about the school's program.
Good luck to those of you who have interviews in the upcoming months! Don't hesitate to comment if you have any other questions you'd like me to address in regards to interview preparations!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

MedTalk Series: A Quick Update

Hi everyone! Apologies for the lack of posts in the past month. Medical school has basically been preoccupying my life - I think a second year said it best when she said that the amount of information you are presented in medical school is like having a fire hose of water being shot at you face on. Indeed, I've come to realize that my studying habits had to change from undergrad to medical school in order to keep up with the amount of information and knowledge being presented in lectures. You have to keep up with the lectures on a daily basis - no more procrastinating and studying 3 days before an exam and still expect to do well! Nonetheless, medical school hasn't just been all about studying. There's many social events for medical students which is a great way to meet fellow classmates and even network with residents and physicians. What I love most about medical school so far is the clinical skills sessions we have whereby we get to actually practice our interviewing techniques on standardized patients. This is the part of the curriculum whereby I actually feel that I'm a "medical student" and have the opportunity to explore and learn about the humanistic side of medicine. These sessions have also made me realize that my wardrobe is lacking in professional clothing which is the perfect excuse for me to go shopping soon =D

I know the deadline for OMSAS applications was a few days ago and I wish all of the applicants for this year's cycle the best of luck! I'll probably be doing a post on interviewing techniques as interview invites start to go out next year as well as a post on interview outfits so be on the look out for that!

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

Friday, 24 August 2012

MedTalk Series: Orientation Week

Orientation for medical school started Monday and I've been so busy meeting new people and attending all the events that I haven't had a chance to update on this blog - sorry! I start school next Monday and I've already got a week's worth of notes the size of a loonie. It's been pretty surreal these past few days with getting my hospital ID badge (it actually says Medical Student!) and attending my stethoscope ceremony. I think those two events have made this dream of mine a lot more realistic. I also had the opportunity to visit the hospital that I'll be located at for some of my classes so that was definitely really neat. Next week is going to be jam packed with lectures running back to back and I start dissections on Thursday! Let the marathon begin!
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