My Doctor Reading List

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Reality check

I knew that being a mom and med student wouldn't be easy. That it would be hard to balance and that I will have to make sacrifices. I would spend less time with my kids, less time with my husband, less time doing things I enjoy (like watching certain shows, reading, exercise).

But one thing I didn't consider was the sacrifices to my studying and potential grades. I am a pretty competitive person and I always liked to be the best or one of the best students. All through high school, all through university. I never had a "C for degree" type attitude. And I'd feel guilty and angry with myself on the rare occasion that I did let my grades slip.

This has also been the case with medical school. I have a LOT of stuff to learn, and my classes are very demanding. I have two tests from Anatomy and one test from Histology every week. Both of these require a lot of memorization and learning of different systems and is very fast paced.

And I haven't been able to be as prepared as I'd like to be for some of the classes. Don't get me wrong, I'm doing well so far BUT I want to be better, to be the best. I wish I had more time to study, to properly learn certain concepts that I just get a rough outline of. I want to be 100% prepared for every class.

However I've realized that I can't be. That while I do need to do my best, my best might not lead me to be THE best. I can't. I don't have any more time available for studying. I often have to use time when I don't have class or lectures to do adult stuff, like take the dog to the vet or the car to get serviced or attend my son's Christmas concert. I can't study till the wee hours and then sleep in the next day. And that's ok.

I mean, I do laugh a little (on the inside) when I hear classmates complaining about lack of sleep or not having enough time to study. I wonder what the hell they are doing? I forget that I was young without any responsibilities once too - and luckily social media or Netflix weren't really a thing (read: time suck) so in many ways it was easier than today.

Anyway, back to the grind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


I recently posted on my Instagram account of how grateful I was to finally be able to do this and in it I acknowledged the huge amount of support I've received that enabled me to do it - including the straight up financial help that I've received from my parents.

One person made a comment about how nice it was to see me mention that. She said people often look at people like me who accomplish something huge (because being a mom of three and starting medical school is a huge thing) and wonder how we are able to do it when they struggle with much more attainable goals.

It is because I strongly believe in being open. In this day and age of social media it is so easy to show only a tiny part of the story - and people end up filling in the blanks themselves. A friend posts adorable photos of her and her kids at the park or zoo and we think "wow, what a great mom she must be to spend such quality time with her kids." What we don't see is whether or not she's suffering from postpartum depression, or that she is struggling with her marriage or that she hates her job. We see a friend constantly posting photos of recent travels and we marvel at how they seem to have so much disposable income to be able to afford it when just a weekend away in the nearest city wouldn't be possible without depleting our savings. What we don't see is that the person maybe hasn't gotten over a bad breakup years before and can't find someone special and is using travel to fill the void. We don't see that maybe they are racking up huge debt and that it keeps them up at night. Social media is our life's highlight reel and its often heavily airbrushed and edited.

So I believe in being a bit more transparent and show that there is more to the story. I've obviously posted about getting into medical school and moving half way across the globe to do so. I knew that people must have been asking themselves how I did it. 

So I want people to know that I wouldn't be able to pursue this dream of medicine later in life like I am without incredible support. Yes, its great that I had a lot of cheerleaders - my sisters, friends who didn't try to make me feel crazy about it. But I've had real, tangible help as well. My husband for carrying the burden of being the only income earner as well as devoting a lot more time to childcare and housework. My parents for letting us live for free in their house (and earlier for hiring me to work for their company so I could continue to earn money when I first started the journey) and stepping in with childcare too (for example when I had to study for my entrance exams they offered to watch the kids for a week so I could go away to study and sleep in peace).

Plus a lot of luck was involved. We have a house that we own that has gone up a lot in value. It gives us a great sense of security because if we ever find ourselves in some financial trouble (such as my husband not being able to work) we could sell it and live off the profit for several years - enough for the time it would take for me to finish medical school and possibly even residency. Plus we are currently renting it and making a comfortable surplus from the rental income. That, plus the fact that we don't have to pay my parents rent means we have a lot more disposable income which we are using for a full time nanny, housekeeper and private school/preschool. This frees up my time so much so that I can focus on studying and spending time with my family.

Basically, I have a ton of privilege. I was born into a family with means. I was born in a country where I was able to get an education and was able to build my wealth and know its secure. Raised to believe that even though I'm a woman I have equal right and ability to pursue whatever I want. I've had the luxury of time. The luxury to experiment.

Also, while it does look like I'm living the dream, there are of course some challenges. Sure, we can afford for me to do this but there is a huge opportunity cost of me doing so. Not just the years of income forgone on my part, but we've limited my husband's career growth and even prospects. I've struggled with some guilt and even some fear of failure because the stakes are so huge. What if I can't hack it? What if one day my husband resents me for holding his career back? What if my kids resent me for putting a career ahead of them (my son has already grumbled about "this is what he was worried about" when I told him I couldn't read to him one night because I had to study)? Not to mention if we DO have a financial catastrophe, how will I feel about it then we we have to sell the house for real and not just in theory? What if the market crashes and its not worth as much as we want?

But I guess the point of this post is to acknowledge my privilege. I don't want to take away from my accomplishment, because I did work hard for this - but I want to own the fact that I would not have been able to do it on my own. And that there are many people who would love to do it but really can't and its not for a lack of hard work on their part but purely because they aren't as privileged as I am. And I hope I never forget that.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The first month

I can't believe a month of medical school has gone by!

I love that I can officially call myself a medical student. Though its funny, I don't feel the need to announce it unless someone asks me specifically what I'm studying. I think its because I'm doing this 100% for ME and I don't care who knows or doesn't know.

I really like my core classes this semester, which are Molecular Biology, Anatomy and Histology. Anatomy is the hardest as we have to memorize a ton (who knew that the humerus had 27 parts?!) each class. It was incredibly overwhelming at first but slowly I've gotten into the swing of things. Its an incredibly demanding class though because we have a test from it at every lab, which we have twice a week. If we pass the test, we get a "credit" if not, we don't. Then the sum of our weekly credits plus our scores on the midterms is what determines whether or not we can write the final exam and the our final grade depends on only the final exam. One cool thing though, is that the three students with the highest class credit + midterm exam results will be exempt from writing the theory portion of the anatomy exam (will still have to take the practical, which is identifying parts that have a pin stuck into them). While I'm definitely aiming for that, I'm also trying to be realistic about how much I can study whilst still balancing being a mom and wife. Its funny, my competitive side is coming out again and I want to be the best but I also need to be ok with the fact that I won't be. Because I can't study all night and then sleep in the next day. I can't cram or even "get ahead" by studying all weekend like some of my classmates can (and do).

I'm finding the transition to be easier than I expected though. I don't know if its because I take it very seriously and study a lot - I'm treating med school like a full time job where I go in in the morning and study regardless of when I have class. If I have class in the morning, I go to class and then study in the afternoon. If I have class in the evening, I study during the day. I try and get a bit of study time in on Sundays but I'm trying to keep the weekends to be about family and relaxing. Because even though I'm loving every minute so far, I know the novelty will wear off and I don't want to burn out. Because I can see how easy it would be if one put things off too much and then tried to cram. Plus, I've been able to have a lot more time for myself. To reflect on my life, to do personal errands, even just shopping in peace.

I'm not going to lie though. I do miss my kids, especially my daughter. She is still so little and I do get a bit of a tug on my heart when I think of her. The boys are in school/preschool anyway, so I don't feel like I'm "missing out" on them as much but I do with her. The good thing is that she has gotten a lot closer with my husband, who is loving the one-on-one time with her.

But I'm so happy. Everything about this feels right. Its an amazing feeling to be doing something (or at least working towards) something you love. We'll see how feel when midterms come around though!

Friday, September 29, 2017

First Impressions

The last three days have been so interesting. The official Orientation events have been fairly low-key so far but they have definitely been informative.

Its been fun getting to know people. Our class is about 120 people, 20 of whom are people who are repeating the prior year. We were also divided into five groups of about 20 odd people and these are the groups we will be having all of our classes with.

I really like the people that are in my group that I've met and talked to so far. They all seem like smart and determined people and I look forward to getting to know them better.

I'm definitely the oldest person in my group though. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that its not all 18 years olds like I expected. In fact, in my group there are only one or two 18 year olds and the rest are all in their early twenties, even a couple that are 24.

We also had some talks from the professors of Anatomy and Histology - the two core subjects and the hardest ones that we will be having this year. Its one or both of these subjects that lead to people failing and repeating the year.

At first I got a bit panicked because I found out that last year only 40 people passed the anatomy final on the first attempt. But then I found out there are three attempts, so its not THAT dire. That said, 20 people did not pass any of the attempts. And I could tell from the presentation that its a class that is going to move incredibly quickly and in order to be successful I'll need to be incredibly consistent with my studying.

Something found a bit odd though was how much time was spent talking about missing classes and/or exams and the proper protocol for obtaining and submitting doctors notes for absence due to illness. To me it seems obvious that missing class in medical school should only be due to extreme illness or emergency. I don't know, maybe its because I'm older and know that in the real world you can't just have a cold or headache and not come in to work or because you don't feel like it. But clearly this was a problem in the past since they stressed it some much.

One thing for sure, is that these past few days have made me excited to start classes - even though we will have our first test on Thursday!

On a totally different nanny and I were going over the schedule for next week and we both noticed that my 21 month old daughter was very quiet...because she had found my (brand new!) histology text book and a highlighter and I guess decided to "highlight" what she thought I should know, lol. Luckily it was just highlighter and amazingly I was able to easily wipe it off with a baby wipe! Sigh, this is definitely not a problem most other students will have to deal with!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Tomorrow is the start of Orientation Week.

I knew that this time would go quickly and it has. I managed to get everything sorted out. Found the world's best nanny for my kids. Got a bunch of other items crossed off my To Do list. Still have a few left, but I also had a few surprises thrown in (including what looks like a cancer diagnosis for my 9 year old basset hound - however, until the biopsy results come back, I refuse to worry). I can't stress about it.

It just goes to show you that things DO work out. But there will be surprises along the way, may of which won't be pleasant. But I'll get through them, the best I can.

Luckily most of the O-week events are pretty low key and aren't going to last all day, so I can ease in to being away from the kids. I miss them already.

Wish me luck, though classes don't start for real until Monday.

Monday, August 21, 2017

So I'm now well into the "fun" summer I promised myself if I got it and so far, its been great for the most part.

But now the logistics of becoming a medical student and a mom (and wife, friend, sister...) are starting to freak me out a bit. I have to admit, knowing full well what's in store for me (and knowing full well that "knowing full well" doesn't usually come close to reality in cases like these) made me take stock of my life and focus on getting certain things in line. I'm not going to go into detail on this because its a bit too personal, but its something I'm glad I did.

The biggest item on my TO DO list though is hiring a nanny and I've started the process. But until I have her moved into my house, I will be nervous. Especially since my parents are leaving back to Canada 10 days before Orientation and I will literally have no one except my husband (who has a full time job) to deal with all kid related things. We've decided that our best option would be to get a full time live-in nanny and my husband offered up his office above the garage to be the nanny's suite. Its a pretty sweet living area that is separate from the house. Its basically a studio apartment and has (or rather will have) a kitchen, as well as a bathroom. So the search begins.

But before I dwell into the balancing act that is being a mom-of-three-MD-to-be (lol, new Instagram handle perhaps?) I just wanted to do an update on what happened since I got my acceptance email.

Again there was a bit of a hiccup. They required a copy of my HS diploma as proof that I graduated from HS. Which is great except...I had no idea where mine was. I wasn't even sure which CONTINENT it was on, let alone if I even had it anymore. I've moved around so much and honestly, to me it was just a pretty piece of paper enclosed in a red leather plaque that I got on graduation day and promptly forgot about. When I applied for my undergrad degree, they cared more about my transcripts than the actual physical diploma. Anyway, my high school wrote a nice letter and issued me a duplicate diploma, however the admissions lady seemed a bit doubtful as to its authenticity when I sent it in with all the required documents. But after a few panicked phone calls and chats with the admissions lady to assure her that I did in fact graduate HS (and I have my HBA from my undergraduate as proof because no university, much less the prestigious program I graduated from, would have accepted me without graduating!) everything got sorted and I got the real acceptance letter (I knew for sure this one was real as it also had my tuition payment dates and instructions printed right on the front). After I got that email, I actually felt comfortable telling more of my friends about it. The best part about this whole story is that literally two week later my sister was cleaning out her closet in my parents house in Canada and she FOUND my original HS diploma! I had to laugh at that and I brought it back with me to Poland just in case.

Oh! And I forgot, my exam results that got me accepted to med school. Well people, I don't know what the average mark was or what the lowest or highest marks were because they haven't posted them yet, but I do know that my 53% (!!) got me in.

My husband was able to find some cached version of the results page from a previous year about a week before my exam and I saw someone that got accepted with a 47%. It gave me a much needed confidence boost since they literally take the top 120 scores to determine acceptance and it made me feel my chances were decent if someone with that score was able to squeeze though, as surely I'd be able to pull off something similar. I figured that either the exam was incredibly hard or the people who apply are incredibly dumb. But something told me it would probably be the former situation instead of the latter.  I literally sat down and created a table of different score scenarios I needed to get to on the exam that would get me to my goal of 50%, factoring in a 25% in physics. Then I'd take practice tests that I'd found on the internet (I found that AP level or MCAT ones were the best predictors) and would track the results of those to see what my chances were. I was getting between 50-60% weighted average and I decided that it was the best I could do and would have to try with that.

As I thought, I did best in biology, decently in chemistry and got a straight 25% in physics. I'm actually pretty proud of myself that I predicted my score so well and took the risk that I did by focusing on bio and chem and just straight up relying on the laws of statistics to help carry me through physics. I didn't mention this in my previous post but during the exam, one of the exam proctors had a look at my answer sheet and noticed my long column of coloured-in "B" bubbles and actually stopped and asked me "what on earth is this???" and I said, with a straight and serious face "my strategy". He looked at me like I was crazy but shrugged his shoulders and said "Ok then." And walked on.

But I did it and it worked!

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 ER doctors practicing in the Arizona. 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).