Written by: Nnamdi Chiekwe, Therapeutic Recreation Student
Interview with: Adrianna Broussard and Tiffany Richards, Dalhousie Medical Students
It was great to sit and chat with two of our awesome Medical students here at Dalhousie University. Adrianna Broussard, a 1st year student, from Antigonish Nova Scotia and Tiffany Richards, a 4th year student, from Truro Nova Scotia. Both individuals have traveled different paths in their pursuit to medicine arriving at their destination as non-trads (non-traditional). These women share their story with us on why they chose medicine and their current experiences thus far in their journey.
For me, I have always had it in mind to pursue medicine since I was a kid, however, I sort of got away from it through my high school and undergraduate years as I explored other interests of mine. Another factor that brought me away from my initial pursuit was that I just felt intimidated by the whole thing. I just felt like I didn’t have a chance. I didn’t know anyone from the community that got into medical school and I thought it was only for rich kids. Once I finished my undergraduate degree, I worked for a couple of years and volunteered in many different inner-city initiatives. Through these experiences, I got really interested in nutrition and learning about it, and this interest brought me back to my childhood dream of medicine. I grew up in a community where there is a high prevalence of chronic illness that can be associated with nutrition, such as diabetes. What really solidified my desire to pursue medicine was my experience working as a research assistant and seeing the physicians and other medical staff at work. I explored other healthcare professions, but truly enjoyed the wide scope of practice of medicine and the more global view of the patient that physicians have.
I was always geared toward a career in health from high school, with most of my interests in medicine and physiotherapy. It wasn’t until the 3rd year of my undergraduate degree, after having the opportunity to shadow both a physiotherapist and physician, that I decided to pursue medicine. This experience opened my eyes to the wide scope of practice within medicine and the many possibilities. I applied three times before I matriculated here at Dalhousie. During my application process I had the opportunity to learn more about myself, what I was truly interested in, and to develop my interpersonal skills, which I am finding is very important on this road to medicine.
What did you expect and has anything changed?
I honestly expected to kind of be on my own, and I didn’t expect to find a tribe. I am happy to say that from the first day of classes I met 5 girls, all women of color, that have been my rock and support throughout medicine. I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t going to have to do this all by myself. I expected to be more tired, and I heard the saying that medical school was like “drinking from a fire hose” (so true). There is just so much information to learn and it’s overwhelming at times. This challenged me, and it was a very humbling experience. I quickly recognized what it felt like to be in a class full of achievers, and this surely cured my perfectionism. As I mentioned before, I didn’t come from a medical family, I didn’t have any previous social networks with physicians, so this was all brand new to me, and I literally had no idea what to expect. Although I knew it would be lots of work, it was more work than expected.
Just my expectations in what a career in medicine looks like. I was idealistic when I started. I’ve learned as a physician you are also a businessperson, and you must work within this medical system that has been established. Some of the things I imagined myself doing I have to kind of shift to what I want my eventual practice to look like. Regarding medical school and the different years, I didn’t realize how little control you would have over your life. 3rd year is tough because you are in clinic and doing rotations, and you may be on call and you don’t have much control over your schedule. This was tough, and I had to learn how to be a lot more flexible.
I expected it to be a lot of work. I knew it was going to be harder because the challenge of getting in was difficult. I am thankful that some of my previous experience has helped with some current transitions in medical school, such as my patient and clinical background. So far, I have found that it has been a lot of practical learning, things like taking history, communication skills, and other skills. I expected that we’d start right into it and it would be extremely overwhelming, I was honestly expecting to have had more breakdowns from the volume of material, adjusting to the pace, and just feelings of being overwhelmed, but it has not been like that at all! They have done a great job at easing us in.
Like Tiffany, I don’t have anyone in my family who was a physician, but what I’ve found is that many are from the same background. This has helped and has created a very supportive group! We help each other out with studying, and we are constantly creating connections and growing through things.
It is still a very competitive atmosphere. I didn’t really know quite what to expect in this regard. I don’t like to consider myself quite competitive, but I know I am, and I don’t like to compare myself to others. I found, at times, it a bit hard comparing myself to others. I was told that these feelings and expectations will get trained out of me, but I initially didn’t know what people meant when they said that. I am now learning that as I am going through. There is a lot of material, but it isn’t hard, just a lot. There are also a lot of things to get involved with, and I want to try and get involved with everything like everyone else because everyone seems to be so balanced with their life, but I need to check in with myself and make sure I’m not overburdening myself and break the habit of comparing myself to others, because that will just be hard on me in the long run.
Specialties and why?
That’s tough, I’m sort of considering 2. My long-standing plan has been family medicine, because I am very interested in preventing chronic disease progression. So, preventive medicine, things like helping patients to adhere to treatments and medications, ensure patients are up to date on screening tests, counseling patients and helping to develop S.M.A.R.T. goals.
In Med3 you do placements in every specialty, thus exposing you to all sorts of disciplines of medicine. I really enjoyed my time in psychiatry. I find psychiatrists very interesting, and in this field, you have the opportunity to sit down with the patient for a longer period of time and really get to know them. I really enjoy counseling and psychiatry offers you many opportunities to do that. As well, the pace of psychiatry is great because there is time to sit and think and talk about things and really come up with the best solution.
For a while I considered Radiology. This was because of my background in Ultrasound, it was just what I knew. I do really like a lot of patient interaction and the counseling aspect of medicine. From my current experiences, I am not sure that the radiologist doesn’t get a lot of that in their day-day activities. I have also considered family medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology; however, I honestly am not quite sure yet. Luckily, our curriculum allows us to participate in different opportunities such as observerships and electives that allow us to experience many areas of medicine. I will be taking full advantage of these to find my passion!
What are your hopes as a physician? Degree and Residency
To be a very competent physician. Ultimately that is the goal, to model the behaviors of the physician that I want to be. That model physician is thorough, competent, community engaged, and to develop patient advocacy skills. Ideally, enhancing my ability in all the CanMEDS roles!
As a physician I want to be competent to minimize the risk for the patients that I serve. Communication is an essential component in providing good quality healthcare services. Thus, I want to develop my communication skills and to learn how to navigate the healthcare system and what are feasible goals. Right now, I feel very idealistic, and I am slowly learning through the classes that some things that I want to do might not be feasible. I can always adjust the goals and apply them in a different way so that I can incorporate them into my practice. I want to learn the health care system and what I can do to be a good patient advocate, so that I be the best physician for my patients. I also really enjoy getting involved with community, and I am very passionate about social justice and making sure marginal populations are able to get the services they deserve, as well to encourage and inspire youth from these populations to pursue a career in health.
What do you hope to accomplish in your future career as a physician?
Going back to my ‘why’, my passion is the Black community and improving health outcomes in the African Nova Scotian community particularly. I am most driven by combating chronic illnesses and focusing on preventative medicine, since many of these are related to poor access and screening. My ideal practice would be to focus on well-care and focusing on patients in the early stages of illness and those in good health so that they are able to stay well, that’s what makes my heart happy!
I would like to start an outreach program to service more rural areas. If I owned a small clinic I’d like to conduct a traveling clinic in rural areas around Antigonish and Guysborough to service the African Nova Scotian and Indigenous communities and bring more access to healthcare to them. Ideally creating some sort of clinic to service them so they don’t need to travel so far to see a doctor.
What would you tell first year you?
- Remind her that she worked really hard and she deserves to be there. That everyone feels like an imposter, and that’s okay.
- Tell myself to prioritize my own wellness, making sure that is in my schedule and that I am a priority
- In medical school it is no longer about being the best student and getting the best grades, it’s about learning the skills and knowledge you need to become a competent physician, and sometimes those goals are not super compatible. Don’t neglect the actual knowledge you need!
- Keep your friends from outside medical school close, remember you had a life before medicine, and you will have one after as well.
- Don’t focus on just applying, focus on learning what you like to do, and getting involved with things that interest you, because ultimately that will help you applying to medicine and through the process, knowing what you like and who you are as a person. It will show in your application that you’re interested in something and you are a passionate individual who will bring that to medicine!
- Procrastination is not an option!