Saturday, October 17, 2015

How do you become a doctor?

A lot of people ask me about a career in medicine. I am so proud to see so many more Sikhs of my generation studying to become doctors! Many families are confused about the process of becoming a doctor in Canada. I have had people say their child is in “pre-med” when they are actually still high school students, or say they are in “medicine” when they are doing their undergrad. On the other hand, some people don’t know that going to medical school means becoming a doctor. Many people don’t know about the whole process so I thought I’d take out the time to explain it here.

The Canadian medical schools are: Memorial University of Newfoundland, Dalhousie, Laval, University of Sherbrooke, University of Montreal, McGill, U of Ottawa, Queen’s, U of T, McMaster, Western, Lakehead, U of Manitoba, U of Saskatchewan, U of A, U of C, and UBC. Some of these programs have smaller sites. For example, UBC has 4 sites (ex. Prince George). The programs are quite competitive and often people fill out multiple applications before they are accepted.

In Canada, you can’t go right to medical school after high school. You must do at least 3 yrs of an undergraduate degree in university (and many times finish your degree which is 4 years because there are limited spots for applying after 3 yrs) before you go into medical school. We don’t really have “pre-med” programs like they do in other places- you do an undergraduate degree in a certain area, usually a Bachelor of Science. This is becoming more flexible as programs are accepting students who did undergrads in areas other than Science like psychology, English, etc. You also have to do prerequisites- these are required courses that each medical school decides you have to take before you can apply to their program- for example first year biology, chemistry, etc. Each university has somewhat different requirements which you can find on their website. In addition to these requirements, you write the MCAT exam. This is an exam that many people write in the summer in after their second or third year of their undergraduate degree. The universities have different cut-off scores so if you don’t get enough marks on it, your application will be denied. You can rewrite the exam multiple times.

The application takes into account your marks, your MCAT, but also volunteering and life experiences. I have had very smart friends with good grades not get accepted to medical school because of lack of volunteering experiences. They want to be able to see that you have people skills that are needed to be a doctor. A doctor can always look something up with the right resources, but if they aren’t able to be compassionate and caring, they haven’t done their job. This is the part of the application that takes into account research, work experience, sports, volunteering, travel, etc. There is no formula to getting this right. They want a well-rounded person. Not everyone needs research experience. Not everyone needs travel. But they want you to show you have the qualities they are looking for- communication, collaboration, professionalism, etc.
The application timeline can be confusing. It takes a whole school year to apply. That means you usually submit application in late/summer or fall and you get into the program the next fall. So people who want to get into medical school next year (2016 September) would have done their MCAT already, sent their applications, and are going to be finding out if they got interviews sometime between December 2015 and Jan 2016 (sometimes later). Interviews are Feb-March ish 2016. Then they wait until May to find out if they got into the program.

Interviews are usually a format called MMI- multiple mini interview. This is when you go into a room for 10 minutes or so and deal with a scenario. It could be someone asking you questions, it could be a video, a picture, an actor, etc. You do multiple stations. Some schools have combined MMI and panels (old-style) interviews.

Medical school is 4 yrs with the exception of McMaster and Calgary (3 yr programs). In a 4 yr program you do 2 yrs of studying at the university (example studying about body systems, histology, anatomy, etc.). You will likely have some but very little clinical time in proportion to the studying. You write exams on these topics. Then the next two years are your clerkship. You are at the hospital full-time learning as a student. You rotate through the wards in third year. For example you do a few weeks in pediatrics, a few weeks in maternity, etc. and write your exams. In your fourth year you do electives, fill out your applications for residency programs and write your final exams. Although you get an MD degree at the end of medical school and your title is “Doctor” you can’t practice medicine yet- you have to do a residency program.

Residency programs range in lengths with the shortest being 2 yrs for family medicine. So if you want to be a family doctor in Canada, after high school you probably did 4 yrs undergrad + 4 yrs medical school + 2 yrs residency= 10 years! Many of the specialities are 5 yrs or longer. Unlike getting into medical school, a computer program matches you to where you will be going based on where you applied and what the programs thought of you. So you don’t get multiple offers- you get told where to go.

People are seeing these ads (including on punjabi tv programs!) for “Canadian” medical schools that involve going out of the country. The only real Canadian medical schools are the ones I listed above, even though others exist that are IN Canada- they are not Canadian schools. That means you have to write exams to practice in Canada. That also means you have a lower chance of getting a residency program. That’s something to think about before you go onto to do these types of programs. Although its easier to get in, you will have a harder time coming back to practice medicine in Canada.

I encourage people to go into medicine because it’s an amazing career. You are doing the amazing sewa of saving people’s lives or improving their quality of life. It’s a stable job and you are well-paid for your time.

I think there’s a side of medicine people don’t look at when they think about entering. Even the first two years of medical school we were in class 8 am – 5 pm each day and had to go home and study each day for exams and do our preparation for our sessions the next day. You will be under a great deal of stress with extremely long hours. For example working a 32 hr call shift at the hospital. This means missing out on life events and making a lot of sacrifices. You study and work at the same time, you write exams for yrs and yrs, and you are criticized by your superiors. I have seen people struggle with finding time to eat and sleep. I’ve seen people burn out from not being able to let go of what you have seen, at the end of the day. Most of the time people ride it out because at the end of the day they are doing something they love and making a difference. It’s something for people to think about before they fill out their application. If you think it’s too much stress for you, think about other healthcare careers (there’s LOTS of them! X-ray or ultrasound tech, nursing, etc.)

Medicine is an amazing career choice and I encourage my fellow Sikh Youth to think about this career. It's not for everyone, but if your dream is to become a doctor then I say go for it and Waheguru will help you get there. Don't give up!

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