An Ode to Medical School Applicants

Last week, I spent some time with a friend who is preparing for his medical school interviews. We went through a list of exercise questions to ascertain his effectiveness at answering questions in a manner that was both concise and ethical. I gave him feedback about the structure of his answers and suggested he try to use a bit more emotion in his responses. I couldn’t’ help but feel powerless and underqualified throughout the practice session. I’ve never applied to medical school, nor have I ever been trained on how to navigate multiple mini interviews, how to respond to questions about medical ethics, or how to act out case scenarios.

If there’s one thing I do know about the application process to medical school, it’s that it is difficult.

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I completed my undergraduate degree in the field of Biomedical Sciences, a major that drew in a lot of young, hopeful adults who wanted to become physicians.

It is common in many cultures to prize prestige over practicality when it comes to selecting a profession. More often than not, the reasons parents present the option of medical school to their children boils down to this:

Why don’t you become a doctor? Doctors make lots of money and everyone needs a doctor at some point in their lives. All you have to do is listen to patients and then send them home with a prescription. It can’t be that hard!

But it isn’t that easy to become an MD, not unless you’re willing to complete your medical training in a rural university or pay exorbitant fees to study medicine outside of Canada.

It’s also extremely competitive. In 2017, the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre recorded 6,596 applications to medical school. Of this number, 955 students were registered i.e. accepted into medical school (there is a discrepancy between this “total number” and the number of applications listed per university. If someone is able to explain this to me, feel free to comment below!). That’s an admission rate of 13.7%. Occupational therapy programs see an average admission rate of 22%. For Physiotherapy programs it was 18.9%; Speech-Language Pathology 20.9%; and Audiology programs 13%. These are all very specialized occupations that play a significant role in our society’s health and wellness. There is a good reason that the admission process is selective, but medical schools received almost five times the amount of applicants as any of the above programs.

It’s likely that none of the above information may be new to you. Everyone knows it’s not easy to get into medical school. Some parents may insist that “as long as you work hard you will get accepted”, but that’s really not the case. Not only is it difficult for students to get accepted, but it’s a game that is constantly changing as medical schools evolve the way they screen their applicants.

Becoming a physician is challenging. I hope that people, particularly parents, will think twice before they casually tell their children to become doctors, not knowing the full story of the journey to medical school. If you, reader, know someone who is trying to get into medical school, do check in on them and make sure they’re not stressing themselves out too much. Buy them some cake and cookies now and then.

Lastly, if you yourself are applying to medical school, please know that your struggle is respected and valid.

Here’s a haiku for you:

Late nights with coffee
A doctor you aim to be
Don’t forget to sleep

And a random poem:

You spend your nights with Mistress Coffee
Forgetting to sleep and eat
You struggle, study, Coffee, struggle
While your dreams wait to be set free

Remember the sun, the moon, your pillow
Your friends, your family, your soul
For once all is said and done
Who will be left for you to console?

 

What’s in a name?

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As many immigrants will agree, it can be frustrating to have a first name that is difficult to pronounce for speakers in your new country. Second generation immigrants can also encounter this frustration, perhaps more frequently because they may or may not be fluent in their parents’ native tongue. For some people, the solution is to create a nickname for their native name that is either short, an easy-to-pronounce anglicism, or chopping their name to one that resembles a common Western name.

In elementary school, a Korean student transferred to our school. Excitement among my classmates was high as we wondered who they were, why they were here, and who would befriend them first. For about an hour, we called him David. By lunchtime, we were calling him by his Korean name Keewan because he was too flustered and overwhelmed by the transition that he kept forgetting “David” referred to him. As it turns out, using his birth name didn’t prove to be too big of a shift for our English-speaking classroom. We were too distracted by his big smile and hearty laugh to care whether he was “David” or “Keewan”.

I have since spoken to other immigrants who came to Canada and were advised to select a “western name” before arriving. The advice often came from family members or friends who had already immigrated to the country. I thought this perspective on “blending in” was really interesting. Albeit picking a new name to sound more western (white) is a plausible solution, it definitely made a lot of immigrants feel like their new “western” name was representing a new identity in a new land.

The discrepancy between having a birth name and an “immigrant name” is quite common among new Canadians.

This made me ponder: what exactly is a name?

 

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I Googled my name recently to see if my WordPress blog would be one of the top hits. In actuality, I found that http://www.juliedam.com was taken by another Julie Dam from the USA. I couldn’t help but peruse her site and feel taken aback by the fact that we had similar interests:

  • Julie Dam from New York has similar career interests as I do but she is more experienced and well-established. I’m still crawling through the budding phase.
  • We’re both passionate about writing and oddly enough, New York’s Julie Dam has a career doing consulting in content strategy and strategic communications—both of which are fields of marketing that interest me greatly.

So given the almost freakish similarities between New York’s Julie Dam and I, how much does a name really define who you are as a person?

Reader, who are you?

Special thanks to Julie Dam from New York for granting permission to be mentioned in this post. It’s a small world after all!