My Doctor Reading List

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


I still can't believe it. 

On Monday I got an email said from the Medical University of Warsaw with just "Decision" in the title. 

And they said that based on my results from the entrance exam that I took on May 6, the Admissions Board is offering me a place in the 6 year medical program starting this October.

At first I wasn't sure if I read it right. I even CALLED the admissions department to make sure.

But I'm in - for sure.

And I have to tell you about the crazy, last minute whirlwind I had to endure.

So my plan was to apply to the medical program based on my IB grades. However, I didn't have the required chemistry and my biology was at a lower level than required. But the admissions lady I spoke with at the time assured me that I could still apply, I'd just get a lower ranking and that I could take the chemistry portion of their entrance exam. And if that didn't work, my plan was that I'd take the premed prep program that they offered (a year of biology, chemistry, physics and anatomy) to help prepare those who are really keen for the entrance exam and I'd also apply to a bunch of other programs around the country that also required an entrance exam. 

Anyway, two days before the applications were due I was ready to submit my application. But there must have been a bug in the online portal we had to do it in, because I kept getting an error. I called the admissions department and the woman I spoke with agreed that it was a bug - and then noticed that I had included my high school diploma and asked me why I was applying via the IB route if I had graduated high school as well. This was odd to me as I assumed everyone who did the IB diploma also graduated from high school so I never thought to ask about applying with just my high school diploma. She told me that I'd have a way better chance of acceptance if I applied via the entrance exam route - however that would require taking the entrance exam in chemistry, biology AND physics.

I told her that I wish I'd known that earlier, because I had only been preparing for the chemistry portion. The entrance exam was in two weeks. There is no way that I'd be able to prepare for all three subjects well enough! 

She then told me that in her honest opinion, she didn't think my IB marks would be enough because apparently they only reserve a small number of their spots for IB candidates and said even if I did poorly in physics but well in chemistry and biology, I'd have a shot. Biology and chemistry each took up 35% of the exam while physics was 30% and the exam was all multiple choice.

I honestly didn't know what to do. First of all, I was surprised she would even tell me. This would NEVER happen in Canada! And while sure, I felt confident in my chemistry I hadn't done any biology review in years and the last time I did physics was when I was in 10th grade. 

Yet something told me to try this anyway. She also told me I'd find out if I got in much sooner as they inform the candidates shortly after the entrance exam. A part of me wanted to know earlier so I could plan ahead - if I got in, it would mean I'd get to enjoy my summer and give me time to deal with the logistics of going back to school full time. If I didn't, I could immediately apply for the prep program (which only accepts 40 people pre year) and also try and enjoy my summer. Going down the IB application route would mean waiting until the end of July to find out. I just wanted to rip that bandaid off.

Again my family stepped in to help me big time. My husband convinced me to take the risk. My parents convinced me to go away for a week and do some hard core studying without any distractions. They came to stay with the kids and I took off to the Polish seaside and did some hardcore cramming. 

I managed to review most of biology and chemistry but didn't get to physics at all. I decided to just answer "B" on all the physics questions (seriously).

The exam was hard. And there were so many people taking it! For only 120 spots, I was sure that I didn't stand a chance against a group of smart looking people who had known they needed to prepare for the whole exam from the beginning. There were easily 400 people taking the exam at the location I was writing it in - and there were six or seven other locations where the exam was taking place as well! Also, the chemistry portion of the exam ended up having way more organic chemistry questions than I expected and while I'm comfortable with it, some of the questions were incredibly tricky. I honestly think I did better in biology.

I still don't have the actual results of the exam (they will be published next week) but they basically take the top X results and those people are accepted. If you take the entrance exam, its the only thing that counts. So I must have done much better than I thought in both chemistry and biology. That said, I do wonder if I scraped through at the bottom with a point to spare or if I did better than that.

As my mom said, "Who cares? It doesn't make you more or less accepted."

But I still can't believe it. I'm going to be a doctor.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Third time's a charm?

So I'm back.

And I have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that I didn't get into the medical school in New Zealand. I was devastated. Completely. It took me several days to just accept it and grieve it. It really felt as though someone had died.

For a while I thought that this was it, that I had to move on. And I tried. I looked into law school, I looked into starting a new business. I looked into taking a digital marketing course. And while all those had some positives, I couldn't commit to any of them in my heart. None of them excited me, but I thought I had to do SOMETHING. I also knew I didn't want to go back to accounting. In my heart I knew that being a doctor was all I really want. But tried to bury it.

One day (after a pretty big fight too, I might add), my husband forced me to admit that I wasn't over not getting into medical school. He said he knew it and sighed and said "Let go to Poland then."

So the good news is...we did! We up and left New Zealand and moved to Poland just so I could pursue my dream of becoming a doctor.

I did a bit of research before biting the bullet and there really are some great medical schools with English language programs here. Truly! Of course there are also some that aren't good, so if this is a route you are considering, DO YOUR RESEARCH!

I know there are a lot of snobs out there who wouldn't dream of pursuing this path. Europe (and especially Eastern Europe) is not as prestigious as Canada or the US - I know. But this really doesn't mean that they are sub-par in terms of quality of education. I read "but you'll never get back to Canada!" etc and that is absolutely something I am aware of. However, I connected with some people I went to high school with (I went to an American high school in Warsaw) who went to the University of Warsaw medical school and did the English program and they are all doing extremely well. One guy just finished up a fellowship in radiology at Oxford and is considering pursuing a PhD there. Another girl did a residency in Scotland and is now a family doctor in Canada. A couple my sister knows (they met at the medical school) are both practicing in the US. Another stayed here in Poland and is a mini-celebrity with a huge following of her OB-Gyn themed Instagram and blog and TV appearances. They all loved the program, many chose it over other seemingly more prestigious universities and couldn't recommend it more highly.

I know the risk is that I may never get to practice in Canada but that is okay. This is MORE important to me and my husband is okay with it (the only condition he has is that we are to never move to the USA and I'm okay with that too).

Ideally after I graduate I'll be able to do a residency in an English speaking country, with Canada or New Zealand being my number one choice. However, I know that statistically this isn't likely so my next goal would be to do one in Scotland, Ireland or the UK. After completing a residency in one of those countries, I can be a family doctor in Canada without additional training OR if I decide to pursue a different specialty, I can do that residency and practice in New Zealand.

Lastly, if none of the above works out, I'll do my residency and training in Poland and just practice here because I am also a Polish citizen. So this isn't the same as, for example, going to med school in the Caribbean and not getting into a residency program in Canada or the US. I won't be left with no-where to practice. I can also work anywhere in the EU. That will also help in getting into residencies in Ireland (EU residents get a priority over non-EU). Unfortunately with Brexit, I don't know how it will affect my chances in the UK, though currently they accept anyone from the EEA of which Poland is a part of, but if not perhaps my Canadian citizenship will help there.

My husband said that he will figure something out and in any case, he is in the type of industry where remote work is abundant. Luckily he really likes living in Poland and is actively learning the language and is able to keep doing his same job, since its 100% remote. He also said he isn't ready to "settle" anywhere permanently yet (this was also part of his readiness to move away from New Zealand, because if we stayed there, it would require we "settle" indefinitely).

So what are my chances? Well, here is the next piece of good news. My grades from IB are the ONLY thing that counts and from my discussions with current and past students they are more than acceptable (I did well). I will, however, need to do an entrance exam in Chemistry, since I didn't do it at the IB level (the program requires IB Biology, IB Chemistry and IB Math or Physics). But since I JUST completed a university level course in Chemistry, I just need to review it to prepare myself. But grades are all that matter and applicants are ranked from 1-120 and those people are the ones who get in. No essays, no extra-curricular, no MCATs. Just grades from high school (if IB) or entrance exam results (or a combination if you don't have one of the required IB courses). And my understanding is that my grades are very competitive.

But there is a catch. And that is that there is also a very high attrition rate after the first year. As much as 25% of the accepted applicants will not progress to the second year, however after that the university really works to ensure all students succeed. I also spoke to a current student who told me that the pass rate of those who took IB is much higher and the only person he's ever heard of leaving the program with an IB background did so for health reasons, not because of poor academics).

Of course there is every chance that I won't make the cut-off. But I have a back up for that. The program I want has a "Pre-med Prep Course" where you take a year of biology, chemistry, physics, math and organic chemistry and they basically teach to the exam. So far the people who take this course have a 100% success rate of getting in. Its very expensive (10,000 euros!) but my husband said that he would insist I take it if I fail to get in this year. That said, tuition is among the cheapest in the world (currently its 11,000 euros per year) and we can easily afford that .

So watch this space! At the moment I am reviewing my chemistry notes and doing practice problems to prepare myself for the entrance exam coming up in May (which is all multiple choice, of which I will only have to answer the 40 chemistry questions).