Archive | Travels

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CaRMS Tourrrghhhhh

Posted on 31 January 2015 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

I finish my interview, quickly changed out of my clothes, and pack my things. As walk down the stairs my phone buzzes, a reminder that my flight later is on-time.
That’s weird, I think, my flight is supposed to be on Friday.
I then check the date at the top of the screen. Friday. January 30th.
Right, yes. We’re interviewing in London now, so obviously it’s January 30th, that’s when it was scheduled.
Oops.
With the end of today’s interview, I’ve hit the halfway point (cue some Bon Jovi) on this interview circuit, and boy arethedaysjustblurringtogether.
Seriously, where did the time go?
It all started off pretty easy enough, last week started with two interviews only: Memorial on Monday and Dalhousie on Tuesday. Since I didn’t have any interviews in Quebec I had a few days to rest and relax before reaching the first big obstacle. Ontario.
5 days, over 800 km of road travel, late night socials, and 4 interviews in 4 cities, I felt as if I was caught up in riptide that just dragged me through the days. I didn’t even have it that bad – I didn’t interview in either Toronto or NOSM, my admiration to my colleagues that were able to manage these cities as well. Even more intense were some of the Quebec applicants who virtually had no break as they spent the whole of last week going through Laval, Sherbrooke, and the 2 Montreal schools.
I can see that it’s affecting my fellow applicants as well. Ties hang a little looser. What were immaculately cleaned and pressed outfits are creased and salt stained by the road. Earlier this week I heard one person mistakenly say he was enjoying being in Ottawa while at the Queen’s social. Someone told me he no longer keeps track of time by day of the week but by whichever city he’s currently in.
One of the residents I met along the way likened the CaRMS interview circuit to being on a rock tour: every day in a new city, constantly meeting new people, up late in the bars only to wake up early the next day, to go perform the same gig to a different audience.
It feels like I’ve been on the road forever, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good time to just go with the flow. Next week will be a whirlwind through Western Canada, but it’ll be spent either interviewing or traveling. The actual day of the week, heck, the city I’m in, doesn’t even matter. It’s a weird and wonderful transient state to be in, and, pretty soon all over. Soon I’ll be grounded and back in a lecture seat, with just the worn out boarding passes and unused drink tickets to assure me that it all happened. Until then, I’ll be enjoying the fun.
Well, time to head out and catch my next flight. The tour must go on!

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Across the horizon

Posted on 02 January 2015 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

So here we are, final year of medical school. Winding up (or to those lucky ones, already finished) electives, CaRMS applications submitted, and now just waiting for those interview offers to roll in. And according to Love Inc, because we’re all super stars, we should expect a bunch of interviews. This all means a lot of traveling, and because Canada is really big, that means a lot of flying.

Flying can be exhilarating, liberating, and luxurious all at once.

Okay maybe not this luxurious. At least in Canada

But it can also be highly rushed, stressful, and exhausting.

Okay so probably not this stressful either

Add in jam packed days full of interviews and the schedule gets even more harried. However, a few small adjustments here and there can help make this peripatetic existence as smooth as possible.

Below are some of those life hacks tips.

  1. Check-in ahead of time – It’s a basic tip, but needs to be said. Check-in starts at 24 hours before the flight, and you should do it. Why? Well it not only saves you time getting through the airport but gives you better options to choose seating.
  2. Go carry on – With both Air Canada and West Jet sneaking in the baggage fees this year it’s probably best to leave the big suitcase at home and start focusing on portability. Sure, $25 doesn’t seem too much, but as the interview tour continues that can start adding up. Plus there’s always the added time you have to arrive to the airport ahead of time, additional line to check the baggage in, and the extra time to wait around for the conveyor belt at the end. You do want to be able to hit up the socials after all. Not to mention there’s always that small but nightmarish risk of your suitcase not making the flight with you. Going with the carry-on saves time, money, and creates fewer items to keep track of, which can help ease some of the stress as we navigate through airports, shuttles, cabs, buses, and other unfamiliar areas.
  3. Efficient packing – Yes, again a pretty common sense tip (I’m not a certified professional life coach so I, unfortunately, can’t call them LifeProTips) but because we’re traveling for interviews, we have to bring formal suits/pantsuits, coats, shoes, which create necessary bulk to our luggage. Of course, knowing this, there are still a few things that we can do that channels our inner George Clooney.
    • Pick versatile items: neutral colours, multipurpose accessories, a lot of black items (jeans, t-shirts, blazers), a good set of multifunction shoes and your formal shoes, and underwear that can be hand washed and quick dried overnight (Tilly’s, Ex-Officio, Uniqlo, MEC all have these options). The internet has tons of lists to offer packing suggestions, even apps to help you minimize. Make use of them.
    • Wear the bulk: don’t pack your bulky boots, puffy parka, or dense denims (yeah that last one was a stretch). Wear the heaviest items, and make the most of the space for the lighter gear.

      You could also wear ALL your lighter stuff and pack your bulkier gear

    • Roll, don’t fold. Not only does this reduce the wrinkles in your clothes, but also has been scientifically proven (I think) to reduce the amount of space you need for your clothes.
  4. Tame the security line up: The lines in the airport are Christopher Wallace Notorious, and the worst of them is the line to security. A few things can help speed up this process.
    • Find a friend with status, they can get you through the faster ‘Priority’ line as one of their guests. Since a lot of medical students list traveling as one of their big interests, it won’t be too hard to bump into someone. Maybe it’s you!
    • If you do get stuck in line, use that extra time like Batman and prep! Empty your pockets for loose items/wallets/keys into your carry-on, get the belt and watch off, and have the boarding pass ready in hand. You’re only fighting yourself if you wait all the way to the front of the line and then have to empty and unbuckle then.
    • Nail the order of putting things onto the security conveyor belt. Personally, I find this one the most useful: belt & shoes, coat/jacket & personal bag, laptop, and carry-on luggage. I like it because when the items come back out of the scanner, it’s staggered in the right order. I can throw on my shoes and belt, then grab or put on my jacket, I have my laptop bag ready for my laptop when it emerges, and then finally grab the rest of my items and get going.
  5. Bring along a small pack of moist facial wipes

    Because moisture is the essence of beauty…or something.

    Okay to start off, hate the word “moist”, but in this context, it’s acceptable. Desposable moist (shudders) towelettes or make up wipes are great for a quick cleanse after a lengthy flight. After a long day of interviews, cabs, to running through an airport and then cramped in a pressurized cabin of recycled air, these wipes are an amazingly effective way of quickly getting rid of that grimy sensation and feel refreshed.

  6. Keep things fresh – The interview period is a long time on the road, upwards of 3 weeks. That’s a lot of time for things to be cramped into your luggage. Fend off the ripeness by packing some Ziploc bags to hide away dirty garments, splurging on the odd laundry service day, and packing a couple dryer sheets into your luggage will help keep things smelling like spring.

    If you don’t have dryer sheets, a sprig of sage will work in a pinch.

  7. Pack a small power bar in your kit (provided you have the space for it) and never worry about having your devices lose charge during your expedition. You’ll also become a legend among your fellow passengers at the gate and it’s a great way to break the ice to make new friends.
  8. If you are wary of becoming lost in an unfamiliar city and have a limited data plan on your phone, you can look up the area ahead of time on Google Maps and then save it for offline use by saying or typing “OK Maps” (“okay” doesn’t seem to work) in the search bar once you’ve pulled up a region you like. This will cache in a full version of the map (allowing you to zoom in for greater detail) and your phone’s compass would be working all the time even without data for a GPS connection.
  9. If some of the flights happen later in the night or you’re hoping to get some rest while on your flight, download a white noise app to help sleep and drown out noisy neighbours.

What are your favorite travel tips? Feel free to add them in the comments below.

-Special thanks to Tammy Wong, a consultant for Deloitte, for the help in accumulating, curating, and paring down these tips. For more on reflections of the life as a traveling consultant, check out her blog here: http://tyw2010lifestyle.wordpress.com/ 

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Insights off the run:

Posted on 22 November 2014 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

Ah yes, 4th year. The time when suddenly it becomes real: I’m going to be a doctor. That MD is so close I can pretty much touch the serifs. But before we can bust out singing to Vitamin C (yes, you know the song), there’s still a long trial before us. The long 16 weeks of electives.

Now electives are the shot for us to show off what we have to the various programs and locations across Canada (or even the world if you are so ambitious) that we have the stuff that it takes to be chosen for their program.

Through all the bedlam and rush of these electives, we get the added bonus party time fun of having to write personal statements, update the CV, scrounge together letters of reference, and fill out all the extra redundant paperwork that is required for a CaRMS application. 

Yes Natasha, I agree.

However, if we let ourselves take a step back from the daily double grind of working while being on show, move past the exhaustion from the long days, and separate ourselves from the stress of the applications, these elective times are great opportunities. They’re a time to really show off to yourself how far you’ve come. They’re an amazing opportunity to adventure through and live in (albiet VERY temporarily) different places. And you’re likely going to meet a bunch of new people who may become future co-residents, colleagues, or friends.

As the three quarter mark is approaching for the current elective tour, I thought it would be a great time to sit back and reflect on some of the subtler lessons I learned from the long haul.

1) Pack light, travel quickly (alternate title, scrubs are the best)

In one of my favorite movies, Up in the Air, George Clooney poses this question at the beginning of his seminars “What’s in your backpack?“. While his speech is focused on the metaphorical baggage that bogs a person down in everyday life, it’s a good prompt to examine the actual physical baggage that can encumber your peripatetic lifestyle during this year.

From one standpoint, it’s more economical: the airlines have recently implemented more fees for check-in luggage and driving around with heavier loads will also hike up your vehicle’s fuel costs. From another, it’s also easier to move around, you need less time to pack, and it frees up some of the clutter.

Which is why scrubs are awesome because I’ve pretty much cut down two-thirds of my clothing needs as a result. Plus you can look like a ninja at work, which is awesome.

For those without the luxury of having the scrubs option at work, there are still other ways to lighten the load. Simplifying outfits, or finding multifunctional pieces are one way. Eliminating excessive electronics, books, or other accessories are all options as well. Personally I thought that I was traveling pretty efficiently already but after my first couple electives I realized I still did not use a good chunk of what I packed. With my next stopover at home, I hope to be able to make like a bro in summer and cut down the excess bulk.

2) When in a new city, make friends with a local and do what they do

So you’re in a new city and like any good medical student you’ve done your research. You’ve never been to Toronto, Calgary, Halifax, or Vancouver (etc etc) before and want to see all the attractions (and more importantly eat all the food) before you fly out 2 weeks later (come to think about it, visiting medical students are kind of like a pack of cicada – we swarm in, drum up a bunch of cacophony, eat a whole bunch, and in a couple weeks of annoyance to the locals we’re gone).

Yeah, that’s a lot of fun and be sure to take part in it, there’s a reason why those places become the hotspot.

But at the risk of sounding a bit too hipster, it’s better to make friends with some locals or inquire a classmate who is a local and get tips from them.

Why? Well, A) they may have better knowledge on which places are worth the hype and which aren’t. This leads to much better use of your limited time. Secondly, they probably know some other up and coming trendy places that may not be listed on Fodor’s. Finally, locals can probably offer tips that make your day-to-day life on elective easier. You know, stuff like helping figure out transit routes, good places for groceries, and what you might need to bring before heading to the city.

In essence, utilize those interviewing skills you picked up in clinical sessions and strike up a conversation with a local.

 3) There are a million “absolute right way” to do a simple procedure

From suturing, approaches to presenting a case, to even taping people’s eyes, you’re never doing it right. On day one you might get a nice lesson on how to approach intubating a patient. Great, you think, I’ll just do it like this with the next few docs here and I’m set. Day two, your doc looks thoroughly unimpressed with your “technique”, even though you did the exact same thing as the other attending.

Great, don’t tell me this is your first time intubating. You’re doing it all wrong! and you get another lesson, which will only be corrected by the next guy.

Repeat ad nauseum to every elective and every physician you encounter along the way. It’s like facing Tyson for the first time on Punch-Out: you cannot win. I feel like you simply got to go with it, and take solace in the fact that you’ll likely do it yourself once you got medical students of your own to “teach”.

4) Find a good coffee shop

Quick quiz, what’s some of the signs that you’re a #BasicMedStudent?

a) You need caffeine to operate.

b) You need wifi to either work on applications or go on social media (or blogs) to procrastinate from working on applications.

c) You consume a large amount of sugar/carb dense snacks to compensate for the lack of sleep you get.

d) All of the above.

The coffee shop provides all of these amenities, making it the natural stronghold of the traveling medical student. The trick is finding a good one to bunker down in when you’re in a new city. A good coffee shop will cover the basic necessities of survival: protection from the elements whether it’s rain, snow, or the cold; a means of communicating with others via a strong wifi connection, hydration in terms of coffee/tea/beverages; and food in terms of an assortment of baked goods.These are the basics, and everyone has their own personal preference on what they value more. For me, it’s the wifi. Sometimes I can’t count on the connection at the accommodations I’m staying at and I need to get online to work on CaRMS. But that’s just me. 

And, when in doubt, find a Starbucks: they’re everywhere (especially in Vancouver)

5) Wade, don’t jump, in.

Every hospital will run slightly differently. There’s a lot of desire, especially at first to try to jump right in and look like a star off the bat. I would recommend against that. Seriously.

There’s no rush and it’s better to be a fly on the wall and watch what happens, ask the right question, and ease into it. People like to welcome the rookie and it’s pretty favorable to appear as the person who fits in well seemlessly and remembers all the veterans’ advice.

Don’t worry if you don’t try to jump in. It’s just too confusing and stressful trying to figure out a hospital’s way of doing things before you really even have been there. Each are it’s own beast. And it doesn’t matter if you might look bad in front of someone stumbling around lost the first few days. Sorry to burst that bubble but you’re pretty forgettable.

6) When it comes to accommodations – location, location, location!

Electives can be pretty expensive, from application fees, gas fees, air fare, and costs of living. And even though you’re expected to be in the hospital and clinic for most of the day, you actually won’t be allowed to live in one while you’re visiting.

Bottom line: you need to find a place to live.

Now generally the options are: rent/sublet from someone (usually another medical student or resident), find a friend, or stay with family. A lot of people go with the options of staying with friends and family to save cost or to have a good time. But I feel the most important aspect of choosing your lodging is location.

The key number is 15 – that is minutes or less from your main hospital/clinic/centre. The main reason for that is it’s close enough you can escape the clutches of the hospital quickly, but that also means you can get to the hospital quickly when you need to. This is beneficial when you want to come in early in the morning, if you want to get a few more minutes of rest or have a long morning routine, or (if you’re close enough) even having a place to retreat to on a night of call that isn’t a stuffy room with a molded plast mattress.

Having paid for a place right next to the hospital and having saved money by staying at home and commuting, I still say the location is worth missing out on the free meals and cheaper save. Over time, the earlier mornings due to the commute and having to still spend up to an hour getting home after work is done just adds up and cuts into your productivity.

7) Never turn down offers from physicians

While they may be strangers to you, you shouldn’t turn down offers from any of the physicians you meet while on electives, especially if it’s candy.  Often these offers come up innocuously, and have a very short time period to respond.  So are you in? And while that answer yes might not always be crazy, memorable, the hospital turning into a bumping club, adventures, there is often some benefit awaiting, even if there might seem to be some work involved in it.

Help out with a report? Sure that’s a bit of work, but you can get published and it makes a good impression with the residents.

Why not stay later for a case, who knows what you might learn.

Volunteer a weekend to go on an organ retrieval? Always answer yes. It’s a magical, humbling experience.

In the end the electives are not only a chance for you to demonstrate that you’re a great potential resident to each program, but it’s an amazing opportunity for you do tailor your education independently. While it can be a lot of fun to play tourist, go out and eat fun meals, and travel, it ultimately comes back to have the freedom of 16 weeks for you to pick up additional skills for your future as a ______this spot left intentionally blank________ physician.

Happy trails.

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48 hours in Halifax

Posted on 03 March 2014 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

Much like this article, my weekend away had a hard time taking form at the start. The Family Day Weekend was looming and I was informed I’d have Monday off. Perfect, I thought, I could go on a quick trip and have some fun. But where?

I won’t bore you with the details of how I settled on Halifax, except a big factor was that I had never been to the Atlantic time zone before. With that determined, a last minute (but not last second) round trip ticket was purchased and I was off to Nova Scotia. Thanks to a long layover , it wasn’t until 5pm on the Saturday night that I touched the tarmac in YHZ. Noting that my return flight was 8pm on the Monday night, I realized that I had about 48 hours before I needed to be back in the airport to enjoy Halifax.

This is the log of those 48 hours.

Hour 1) Pick up rental car. Stupidly agree to prepurchase gas refill to whatever level the car currently is at. Realize too late that the car is filled up. Grab a quick coffee, and drive into the city. At the MacDonald Bridge discovered that I had no change to pay the toll. Fortunately the bridgekeeper let me through (didn’t even ask me these questions three), remarking that I “must not be from around here.”

Hour 2) Uneventfully got to the hotel, parked the car, and settled in. Got a few tips about what to do in the city. Discovered that I didn’t pack socks or underwear for the weekend (d’oh!) and rushed over to a Walmart and get a few pairs. Decided to grab a few energy drinks as well, because I wanted to have gratuitous amounts of energy.

Hour 3) Went to explore Barrington, one of the main streets of the city. A storm was moving in so I ducked into the Freak Lunchbox, which fortunately was also one of the spots I was advised to check out. This place was like a compact version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, with a nerdy twist! It was a little bit retro, a little bit psychedelic, and a little bit geeky, all in the right amounts. There’s no way I can fully describe how awesome the place is (and, disappointingly, neither does its website), so you’ll just have to check it out.

Hour 4) Popped into the Economy Shoe Shop, a pub recommended by my preceptor who did medical school back in Dalhousie (so who was I to argue). Fortunately, it was a good tip (unlike cool guy tips, which are just awful), as the food was great, the atmosphere was friendly, there were Calvin & Hobbes comics in the washroom, and there were ample beers on tap (Harrison, the bartender, is a particularly good guy).

Hours 5 – 10) Embarked on some good ol’fashionded Haligonian pub hopping (and yes it did involve an Old Fashioned). Checked out some classics like the Durty Nelly’s as well as some of the new places, like the Stubborn Goat. The reputation of Maritime hospitality was on full display as people were always up for striking up a conversation, splitting some pizza, or including a visiting stranger into their celebration.

At some point in the night, I had been invited to join a fellow on his birthday evening out (No I didn’t come out of the cake).

By the end of it, a new acquaintance offered to drive me back to hotel as a hail storm decided to pop up in the middle of the night.

Hours 11-14) Sleep.

Hour 15) Worked to update the OMSA website quickly (go check it out, a ton of services, opportunities, and discounts offered there). Afterwards, went to have breakfast with an old friend from UBC. She decided Cora’s which I have never been to before. For years I’ve had Cora’s hyped up from brunch loving friends everywhere. It was okay (no Marionberry pancakes). Essentially an overpriced and over-esteemed Denny’s. Actually a Grand Slam would have been amazing.

But I digress, it was a nice meet up, a couple West Coasters catching up on the other side of the continent. She’s finishing up her MHA and in the application cycle for medical school this year. Hopefully it goes well for her.

Hour 16-17) Lots of wandering around the city, taking pics from view points around the citadel and from the harbour. Very icy, very windy, and oh so very, very, very cold. Surprised I didn’t end up with some form of frost bite as a result.

Hour 18) Wandered into the Halifax Seaport Market, kind of a larger and more open version of the Covent Garden Market. A mix of local produce, craft vendors, food stalls, and artists, it was pretty lively considering it was a Sunday morning.

What caught my eye the most, was a small shop class in the very back, it was a weekly group that met every Sunday to learn a specific type of carpentry: bow and arrow making. The students were bent over decrepitly old work benches whittling down staves of maple. Their instructor, an old man sporting thick white whiskers and a weather worn face and belonged in a Hemingway, would rotate through and inspect the students work, offering guidance and tips as well.

Hour 19) Went back to the hotel. Read a couple cases. Took a quick power nap.

Hour 20 – 23) Went to watch the Canada – Finland Olympic Mens Hockey game. After asking everyone last night about the best sports bar in town, I ended up trekking to HFX Sports, which is supposedly modeled off Real Sports in Toronto. After snagging the LAST seat in the whole bar (score!) and getting a round bought from my neighbours for being in Halifax the first time (double score!), I partook in one of the time honoured and sacred rites in this country: celebrating a big hockey win with a crowd a strangers.

Hour 24-26) A few random snippets of things” toured the Maritime Museum right before closing, working out at the hotel, reading more cases, sitting down to write an article for In-Training Magazine (THE agora for the medical student community).

Hours 27-31) Met with another former UBC-er for some delicious seafood and a few apres dinner drinks.

If Saturday was all about meeting new people in the city, Sunday was about re-establishing some old relationships. I hadn’t seen Jenn for about 5 years, as she left Vancouver to go work on her Masters’ and now a PhD out at St. Mary’s University. It’s nice to re-connect after a while, and reminded me that these relationships do need to be tended or risk falling apart.

Hours 32 – 40) Sleep, working out, packing up the hotel room and signing out. Nothing to see here.

Hours 41) Hiked around Point Pleasant Park. It was pretty bare, like Old Mother Hubbards pantry. The recent hailstorm and subsequent warmer weather and rain led to a thick layer of ice cover the whole trail as well. This created an interesting walking sensation, almost as if I was walking over a frozen lake.

Hours 42-43) Drove out of the city, south and east, towards a “classic touristy” spot, as Harrison the bartender described it.

“It” being Peggy’s Cove, which had one of those classic “let’s have it on a postcard or feature it in a romantic sitcom scenelighthouses. The road out to Peggy’s Cove was gorgeous, with immaculately iced over bays, serpentine roads wedged between rolling shoreline, and tiny colourful towns dotting the way.When I arrived at the cove, I left like suddenly I was part of a #WeAreWinter commercial or on set in a real-life re-enactment of Frozen (I’m assuming, I haven’t seen the movie).

The lighthouse did look like it belonged in post card, but no post card picture ever correctly depicts the cold wind that whips around the outcropping rocks. As the sea spray had frozen over the path as well as many of the rocks that led to the lighthouse, I was a bit leery about wandering too close to the furious Atlantic rim. I did wander into the nearby restaurant and had a delicious lunch of various seafood delights.

Passed on the pickled herring, however.

Hours 44-46) Decided to take the scenic route back and drive along the coast some more. While it did take a bit longer to end up back in the city, and the route had some harrowing moments (like nearly running into a herd of deer after coming up a hilly segment), it was well worth it to appreciate the Nova Scotian country side. The clouds had blown past, the sky was clear, the vistas were exceptional.

Hours 46-47) Got back in the city. Went to the Paper Chase, a great little newsstand and café. You see, I had a few paragraphs left for my In-Training article (again, the agora for the medical student community), and I was determined to finish it before I left. One invigorating cup of tea, and one astounding piece of carrot cake later, I got that checked off my “To-Do” list.

Hour 48) I rode that feeling of accomplishment out of Halifax, down the 118 (because I didn’t want any more awkward encounters on toll bridges), and back to YHZ. A little while later, as I drifted off for a nap while the plane was taking off the runway, I had half a thought that I’d wake up and it’d still be Friday and the last 48 hours were all just a dream (just a dream). Awoken by the Thundersnow landing at Pearson, it was reassuring to know it wasn’t.

Halifax truly is a city that belongs to the elements. Water, that one’s easy, as it lies on the edge of the Atlantic. Earth, the jutting rocks and hills that shape its roads and stones that form its buildings reminds us of its history. Wind, takes the form of the storms that batter its citizens on a whim. Fire, from roaring ovens and grills come hearty epicurean delights. And, of course, who can forget about Heart (because no quasi-Captain Planet allusion is complete without Heart), especially in the company of Haligonians.

Yes, Halifax was definitely displaying it elements this past weekend. Fortunately, I, too, was in my elements then – my elements being eating food, sampling local craft beverages, and having a new experience. And that’s what happened in my 48 hours in Halifax.

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The 4-1-1 on Medical Student advocacy on Parliament Hill

Posted on 05 February 2013 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

The first weekend of February is usually quite a special weekend. No I’m not talking about Ground Hog day here. It’s special because it is generally the time when medical students coast to coast in Canada assemble (much like the Avengers) on Parliament Hill in the 613 (that’s Ottawa, yo) to lobby for political action and greater advocacy. It’s an event that is hosted and organized by the Canadian Federation of Medical Students.

This year, I was part of the Schulich delegation to this CFMS Lobby Days. As such, I’m going to be sharing with YOU the big Cole’s notes of this weekend. I realize that advocacy is an area that is pretty ambiguous during our years of medical training, so I hope that this experience of advocacy work (while by no means the only type of advocacy experience), helps shine some light on how medical student advocacy can work.

So first things first: Ottawa is cold. WAY. TOO. COLD. Especially for a balmy wuss of a Vancouverite like myself. Quickly after arrival at Ottawa, I realized why all the politicians still use Blackberrys: 20 seconds after exposing your bare fingers to operate a touch screen and the beginnings of frost bite start setting in. Truth.

Another immediate impression: try avoiding to schedule the hotel for all your delegates at the same “Official” hotel of Winterlude, the massive annual winter festival in Ottawa during the same period. Essentially the hotel we were staying at was completely overbooked between tourists, med students, even a wedding party.

No. We did not crash the Wedding.

So our first day, Saturday, consisted of just getting settled in and meeting the other delegates. I noticed a lot of familiar faces, I guess these circles are pretty tight knit. Should be something I can expect moving forward. Back in my undergraduate days of student union politics the term we used was ‘hacks’. Well, it’s funny seeing so many med student political ‘hacks’ too. It was doubly funny running into Tahara, a 3rd year at UBC, who was a political hack with me back when we were members of the UBC student union council.

As a side note, this was the first time I got to skate on the Rideau Canal. While it was definitely a fun experience, and OMG MAPLE TAFFY IS DELICIOUS, $16 for a 2 hours of skate rental is definitely a bit expensive.

During the second day, the delegates spent 8 hours of the Sunday night and afternoon being trained on how to approach MPs and what exactly was the best way to frame our concerns and the Ask we are lobbying for (without getting into too many details, our Ask this year focused on improving the level of research and information at the national level on how to project future health human resource demands). There was a variety of speakers from different realms of political experience, and several workshops to practise. In the end of it all, we learned some valuable lessons on advocacy, communications, student leadership, and self-development.

These included points such as:

  • An MD is not an auto leadership indicator, it simply is an opportunity to become a leader
  • One of the best things a person could possibly do as a leader is to surround themselves with smarter people
  • If you want something done efficiently, force a lazy person to do it
  • No mistake or ‘inadvertent’ complexity in a piece of federal policy is done so simply by accident
  • There are differences between simple, complicated, and complex
  • Everyone likes to chirp Mac. Even Mac grads will deliberately go out of the way to beak the Mac medical experience

With all these, and many more points discussed, we were ‘trained’ to disperse and conquer the Nation’s capital.

Monday consisted of over 70 separate meetings between students, MPs, Senators, and Ministers’ Aides. It was very astounding to see the amount of activity that was happening. While I only had 3 meetings, I kept on running into students off to conduct their own sessions. We were everywhere.

Another thing that was astounding: the cold. It got windy. Damn.

Two other shocks, that really shouldn’t have been shocks, came during the day was how prevalent Twitter use among politicians was, and how many security check points I had to go through. I guess Obama made Twitter cool for every politician because they were much more prolific on the social media front than many of the students. The issue about security made sense. I mean it was the nation’s capital. I guess protecting it every now and then would be expected.

Overall, my experience with how our Asks were received was pretty positive. I had a wide range of MPs to speak to, from all the different parties. They all seemed to be on the same page regarding improving health human resources and getting the ball rolling on figuring out what the long term needs of Canadian patients would be. Despite all the grandstanding and overt displays of theatrics in Question Period, the MPs were all very willing and happy to hear from young minds talking about concerns that could impact the health of many citizens.

I guess it’s easy to forget or overlook the fact that many of these MPs started their roles out of desire to serve their constituents and to improve things in their ridings…based off the understanding of what needs to be fixed. In a lot of the way, it’s similar to the way physicians operate. We both are service leaders, and often the second word in that label ‘scares’ the public from approaching us. However, when speaking to the MPs, it became quickly easy to  see that what was really happening was merely two people forming a relationship and starting a dialogue.

So what’s the big deal with Lobby Day weekend? Despite the cold (for the 3rd time yes I know), it was a great experience. Getting to see the capital was a great privilege, as was the opportunity to meet and work with some of the brightest medical student minds from across the country. However, where the real value lies is in seeing how simple the whole advocacy process works. It’s about just getting out there and speaking your mind to someone you would like something out of. It shouldn’t be too difficult, after all, we all went through FIFE.

I highly encourage any student out there with the slightest interest in learning more about the role of politics and health care policy on the practise of physicians to considering coming out to the next set of Lobby Days as they happen nationally next year at the same time, or provincially under the OMSA in April.

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Our Medoutreach experience

Posted on 23 May 2012 by Marc Lipkus (Meds 2014)

Nkoaranga Lutheran Hospital is a rural hospital in Tanzania about 45 minutes outside the city of Arusha. For one of our medical observerships, the MedOutreach 2011 team stayed on the hospital campus and did clinical officer shadowing in the operating room and wards of the hospital. After the first minute walking through you could list about 10 striking differences between our hospitals here and this rural African hospital. Before even stepping foot inside the building, roosters clucking around the grass surrounding the open environment hospital, or a dog roaming around begging for food were the first obvious differences. Once into the halls, you could see that the best option for air circulation was a bed in close proximity to an open window. Patient privacy consisted of rolling drapes. Also, it is hard to maintain a sterile environment in the OR when in some cases there isn’t even running water – very different to the luxuries of North American hospitals. Continue Reading

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My Summer Experience- Ingersoll and Tillsonburg MedQUEST

Posted on 01 May 2012 by Caitlin VanDeCappelle (Meds 2014)

It took me 11 minutes. Only 11 minutes to drive from my front door to Alexandra hospital in Ingersoll, and yet I had never been there before. At first glance the hospital seemed small and very different from the hospitals I’d been to in London (the free parking may have had something to do with that!). Over the course of my next six weeks in the MedQUEST program, the small town and its people became friendly, warm and welcoming.

Ingersoll and Tillsonburg were looking for physicians, like many other areas in Southwestern Ontario. It wasn’t until my experience in MedQUEST though, that I came to know the strength in a small, tight-knit community when it came to getting something they needed. I had dinner with the mayor, was given a tour of the local CAMI automotive plant, and even got a free library card. Continue Reading

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Multicultural Care

Posted on 25 April 2012 by Shemer Ratner (Meds 2014)

A 12 year old boy from Angola, 17 year old girl from Russia, an 8 year old from Gaza. What do all of these children have in common? They are all in the Cardiology department of the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon, Israel. One by one they were called into the Echo rooms to have the pre-surgical assessment of their heart valves.

Nervous aunts, cousins, mothers or interpreters accompany the children from their home countries. Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili, Spanish, Portugese and Russian are just some of the languages heard, but the real method of communication has less to do with spoken language. Continue Reading

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Asante Sana Tanzania!

Posted on 23 April 2012 by Supriya Singh (Meds 2014)

This past summer, I travelled to Tanzania with Medoutreach and had the opportunity to experience firsthand the rich Tanzanian culture. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I felt at home. Everyone is so friendly and I felt like a celebrity walking down the street because everyone comes to talk to you, smiles as they pass by, and wishes you good day. There is so much love in Tanzania. After only a few weeks in the city of Arusha, the locals knew us by name and would call us the “mzungu” doctors who have come to help. Something as little as a kind stranger’s smile and greeting of “mambo” really made my day. Continue Reading

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Surgery in China

Posted on 10 April 2012 by Audrey Tran (Meds 2014)

I am, by no means, a surgery keener. I have, for the sake of “trying it”, managed to do one surgery observership during my first year of medical school. My memories of this afternoon include spending four hours standing behind the surgeon, resident and several nurses, wearing 10 lbs of lead and a mask that uncomfortably warmed up all the air I breathed, and trying my hardest to keep my hands within the small window of my torso and NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. (I was scrubbed back in twice after failing to sustain this.) Needless to say, I did not come out of it convinced I wanted to spend much more time in the OR. So when our hosts at the vascular surgery department in Shanghai asked us who wanted to see the surgery and who wanted to go rest, I have no idea why I was one of the people who went to go see the surgery. Continue Reading

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