Tag Archive | "travels"

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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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CFMS AGM 2012, a recap

Posted on 03 October 2012 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

Hey everyone, Jimmy here (first post..woot) and I guess I might as well start off with something that’s pretty current (even though it’s a bit belated…apologies).

I’m going to start off with a bit of a promotional plug: check out the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) website at CFMS.org. Sign up for an account (using the passcode 2012cfmsmed). The site has a lot of good resources, discounts, recommendations for textbooks and several tools for Sr. Medical students (CaRMS and electives related). 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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Golden Key – An Organization Dedicated to the Education of the Visually Impaired in China

Posted on 02 March 2012 by Jonathan Fairbairn (Meds 2014)

This summer, four classmates and I visited several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) during our five-week trip to China as part of the Medical Student’s Initiative in China (MSIC). These NGOs were often faced with many challenges including difficulty in securing funding, entrenched cultural attitudes, and problems faced by the sheer size of the population they wish to serve. Indeed from what we saw, it seemed NGOs as a whole in China tend to be generally less well off than those in Canada. However even among other Chinese NGOs, one NGO stood out from the rest in terms of the disproportionate need they sought to address and the resources with which they were equipped to do so. Nonetheless I was encouraged by the optimistic and passionate attitudes of its members in the face of such a challenge. I choose to write this article about Golden Key Research Center of Education for the Visually Impaired for such reasons.

Golden key focuses on education for the blind and low vision population in China. The organization was established in 1988. Their eventual aim is to have every blind or visually impaired child in China have access to education. China has a total population of 1.3 billion, 50% of which are classified as rural, and 15.9% of which earn less than $1.25USD per day. The liaison we spoke with, May, mentioned that Golden Key is the only domestic organization dedicated to promoting education for blind and low vision children in China. The headquarters in Beijing currently employs eight full-time workers, including May. To put it lightly, Golden Key has set a very ambitious goal for itself.
Indeed the state of education for blind and low vision individuals in China is lamentable. This problem is more severe in rural areas. In these areas, families of blind or low vision children are often poorly educated and do not have the knowledge or resources to handle the special needs of these children. To further exacerbate the problem, there is a wide-spread belief in many rural Chinese communities that disabled children are born as a result of the parents’ wrong-doings.

This can include wrong-doings related to directly to maternal or fetal health, or to acts which many Westerners would see as unrelated e.g. not abiding by Confucian social order. An example of the former, May reported, is when some parents try to abort a fetus by ingesting chemicals. This may be done for a variety of reasons, for example sex-selective abortions, attempting to abide by the one-child policy, born out of wedlock, and so on. The efforts of the parents may not always be successful, and can sometimes pose risks to the fetus. Thus, fearing shame and rejection from the community, parents often keep disabled children at home, and subsequently these children do not receive education.

The minority of blind and low-vision children who do manage to receive education are often faced by discrimination and stigma in the work force. For example, May brought up the example of a low sighted person who, when attempting to find employment, was consistently confronted by the belief that blind or low-vision worker would require more work on the part of the company. Part of the discrimination stems from Chinese culture, in which a large value is placed on conformity, and with a low tolerance for unorthodox or abnormal behaviour. Since blind or low vision individuals often have special needs or cannot fulfill roles in the same way that other non-disabled people can, these make them obvious outliers compared to the otherwise healthy and uniform population.

Overall, the current state of blind and low-vision support in China is one that lags behind the standards of many developed countries. However, as China’s economic progress approaches that of developed countries, there will be increased material wealth and likely increased access to education. Increased material wealth will hopefully lead to increased funding for domestic NGOs. Overall increase in access to education will hopefully make education more obtainable for the disabled, and help to soften some of the social and cultural beliefs held by the population at large, which poses such a substantial barrier to a disabled person’s education.

For more information please visit: http://www.goldenkey.org.cn/en/intro/intro_en.html

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