Orientation Week Exec Team 2021-2022: An Introduction and Tips for Navigating First Year

Jul 19, 2021
Author: 
Twanna Lewis

Congratulations to our incoming 2T5 students at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. Each year during Orientation Week (or, O-Week)  students participate in several events and socials prior to the start of their classes to meet their fellow peers. These activities are led by the O-Week Executive team. We are pleased to introduce our O-Week Exec team members for 2021-2022: they will be providing some insight on how to make the best out of your first year.

 Group photo of O-Week Executive Team

 

ZAHRA EMAMI

Pronouns: she/her

Academy: Peters-Boyd Academy

 

Q1: What skills and experiences that you have developed that led you to medical school have been the most useful so far?

Like many others, I came into medical school confident that my relevant academic, professional, and extra-curricular activities would all, in some way, become useful during the span of my medical career. My master’s in biomedical engineering imparted  skills in self-directed learning and problem solving; working in clinical research for several years helped develop my interpersonal skills and professionalism; and an international fellowship bolstered my adaptive thinking and resilience. These skills have all been valuable to me in the past year of medical school. But I think most importantly, these past experiences, and particularly, those experiences that are not directly applicable to medicine, have provided me with a sense of perspective. Being able to set reasonable expectations for myself and knowing when to effectively push or preserve my limits are all part of the insight I have gained about myself over the years. In an unprecedented year, going through an already challenging curriculum, having the ability to reasonably evaluate my priorities and how I should allocate my resources proved to be most essential.

Q2: What is the one thing you wished you knew when you started medical school?

I vividly remember being completely overwhelmed with the onslaught of information that first week of medical school; everything from how the curriculum was structured to how to manage your finances to even the content felt new to me. And on top of that, the clubs, social events, mixers, and all other opportunities felt endless, and I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to pick through them all. I wondered, should I have prepared better? While I originally thought that my lack of familiarity with the medical experience was due to coming from an engineering background, being out of school for a while, or having no physicians in the family, I came to realize that this imposter syndrome was felt unanimously amongst my peers and that, in fact, not “knowing” things before medical school was the point. So really, I would say, I don’t necessarily wish I knew anything beforehand, as the gradual learning and accruing of skills were part of the process. I just wish I knew to be okay with not knowing, something I will likely experience again at the beginning of clerkship, and then residency, and at various future points in my medical career.

Q3: Do you think you made the right choice coming to medical school? Why?

More than a year has passed since I accepted my offer to start medical school at U of T, and I am now even more confident in my decision to enter the challenging and rewarding field of medicine than I was last year. Meeting my passionate peers, talented and caring tutors, and learning to think critically about the various topics within the medical curriculum, has further bolstered my decision to enter medicine and to make a shared impact on the health and wellbeing of others. It is hard to think otherwise when you are surrounded by such a fascinating, unique group of people who share that common goal with you.

Q4: How have you been able to navigate medical school during the pandemic?

Attempting to successfully navigate medical school during the pandemic is an ongoing endeavour, and I will admit, at times it felt like walking a tightrope. Balancing the novelty of the modified curriculum on top of the already challenging school workload against my extracurricular activities and personal/social commitments would have been torturous if I didn’t find enjoyment in the process of navigating the path. I tried to have fun no matter the circumstances. Anatomy bellringer on Monday? Let’s see how many practice questions I can get right on my first go! Standardized patient interview on Friday? Well, that’s a bit like improv, exciting to see what scenario I get! But most importantly, having a strong support system of friends and family to depend on widened that rope I was navigating on, and learning to be flexible was the metaphorical pole to my tightrope walk that helped improve my balance and keep me moving forward.

 

ALEKSANDRA UZELAC 

Pronouns: she/her

Academy: FitzGerald Academy

 

Q1: What skills and experiences that you have developed that led you to medical school have been the most useful so far?

Throughout my undergraduate and my master’s degree, I learned that when I intentionally take the time and space to do things that I enjoy outside of school, from art to sports, I feel more energized and prepared to tackle any challenges that may come my way. Keeping this mentality in medical school has helped me manage the stresses that can come with school and perform at my best on tests and assessments. Medical school demands a lot from you at times, but it is important to remember that it is a long road, and we must learn to take care of ourselves so that we can show up at school (and one day, for our patients) as our best selves.

Q2: What is the one thing you wished you knew when you started medical school?

When starting medical school, it can sometimes feel like we have to know exactly what we want to do after medical school and what specialty we want to choose right off the bat. In response to that feeling, my advice is to slow down and be open to everything. Just this past year, I have learned so much about the different paths and specialties in medicine and the countless ways in which you can shape your career to make it uniquely your own. By being open to new and different opportunities, I have developed new interests in areas and specialties that I would not have known about if I focused solely on what I thought I liked when I first started medical school. There is no rush to know what you want to do right away, so keep an open mind when starting school because, like me, you never know what you might enjoy or discover!

Q3: Do you think you made the right choice coming to medical school? Why?

Absolutely! Getting into medical school has felt like a very long journey and this year was a great reminder about why I chose this path for myself. Learning from empathetic and passionate doctors from various backgrounds and specialties has shown me how exciting and fulfilling a career in medicine can be and how much I can mould this career to align with all my interests. On top of that, I feel so lucky to be a part of the U of T medical student community which is filled with incredible people who constantly inspire me. There is still so much that I am looking forward to learning in medical school and my first year here at U of T has only increased my excitement about what the future holds and further confirmed that this was the right choice for me.

Q4: How have you been able to navigate medical school during the pandemic?

Navigating this year was definitely a team effort and would not have been possible without the help of my amazing classmates. We were all experiencing this unconventional year together, so being able to share my feelings or challenges with my classmates, reach out to them for help or celebrate our wins together was such an integral part of how I got through this year. Joining extracurriculars, such as Daffydill, during my first year also helped me feel a part of the U of T community during this online year, and what made it this year feel so special and meaningful despite the circumstances.

Even in a normal, non-pandemic year, first year is filled with a lot of change and a steep learning curve which can feel overwhelming. These feelings are certainly heightened in the context of a pandemic. Navigating this year was made much easier by being kind to myself, and acknowledging that at times it will be hard, but there will also be so many fun, rewarding, and beautiful moments along the way that makes it all worthwhile in the end.

 

KENYA COSTA-DOOKHAN 

Pronouns: she/her

Academy: Wightman-Berris Academy 

 

Q1: What skills and experiences that you have developed that led you to medical school have been the most useful so far?

My time studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh, MSc degree, and experiences competing as a varsity athlete all come to mind as those which have led me to medical school and have given me skills that have been most useful so far. Some of these skills include resilience, teamwork/collaboration, being self-directed and an independent learner, research skills, and above all being curious and open to taking on new challenges.

Q2: What is the one thing you wished you knew when you started medical school?

One thing that I wish I knew when starting medical school was that units/blocks are not “one size fits all” in terms of studying. I found that I changed my learning style and study strategies throughout the year depending on the block or unit which I was studying for. Being flexible and adapting your study methods is key to your success, so don’t be afraid to try new things while studying.

Q3: Do you think you made the right choice coming to medical school? Why?

Definitely. Medicine is at the intersection of many things that I am passionate about like advocacy, research, and athletics. The opportunity to have a significant impact on health and tackle the intersectionality and structural inequalities that impact the health outcomes of those in my community is something that excites me and that I know throughout my medical training and career I will be able to do. As well just in my first year of medical school alone I have met incredible colleagues, friends, mentors, and patients, and been consistently stimulated through my learning. The opportunities are endless, and the excitement I get thinking of this confirms I’ve made the right choice.

Q4: How have you been able to navigate medical school during the pandemic?

Navigating medical school during the pandemic has been challenging and I have my support systems both within medical school and outside of it to thank for helping me to do so. Collaborating and creating (virtual) study sessions with classmates, prioritizing self-care and mindfulness, and tapping into my adaptability and flexibility have been essential to my successes this year.

 

JOHN PETER BONELLO 

Pronouns: he/him

Academy: Wightman-Berris Academy

 

Q1: What skills and experiences that you have developed that led you to medical school have been the most useful so far?

I think the most helpful skill I developed before going to medical school is flexibility. During my masters, I quickly realized how important it is to be able to adapt, whether to school or life changes, and feel comfortable making those changes when planning and navigating school. Medical school is truly incredible but can be incredibly busy also. I believe that having experience navigating busy weeks, knowing how I work best, and being confident in prioritizing my commitments has helped me most in not just completing, but really enjoying my first year of med!

Q2: What is the one thing you wished you knew when you started medical school?

When starting medical school, I wish I knew more about the affiliated masters and graduate diploma programs. UofT offers unique opportunities to complete research throughout medical school in a structured fashion that can award you an additional degree. When the applications came out, I was almost confused by the opportunity, but in hindsight, felt like I would have applied if I realized what they were. There are so many opportunities at the doctorate level for more research and education, but these opportunities are specially built around our MD curriculum and can be a great way to continue learning.

Q3: Do you think you made the right choice coming to medical school? Why?

100%, yes! I think medical school can be quite intimidating once you finally start. There are tests, assignments, clinical, case based, learning, shadowing, research, etc., and it can feel overwhelming. However, not only do you have 260 or so peers embarking on the same journey and supporting you, but the curriculum is laid out so well that you can truly feel the progress and impact early. Specifically, in the last month of first year I was able to virtually shadow a family medicine clinic and felt confident enough to take a history, and aid in developing a treatment for a patient. With the help of everyone affiliated with the faculty, UofT was able to show me in just 8 short months how impactful I can be as a future doctor and fueled my motivation to continue helping people.

Q4: How have you been able to navigate medical school during the pandemic?

Navigating medical school during the pandemic was tricky, but I felt I was able to find some silver linings early that helped keep me motivated. If anything, the extra sleep that would have been commuting was incredible, but beyond that, I found more time to keep up with my hobbies and get involved in the faculty. At first it was difficult to shake the sense of obligation to work all the time, but with the support of peers in the program, I scheduled breaks into my days that allowed for time outdoors and was able to quickly switch onto zoom calls for club events or speaker series that I may have opted out on due to travel. Medical school during the pandemic is really what you make of it, and I think if you can find time to set aside for yourself, medicine related or not, you can make the best of it.

 

GEDALIAH FARBER

Pronouns: He/Him

Academy: Mississauga Academy of Medicine 

 

Q1: What skills and experiences that you have developed that led you to medical school have been the most useful so far?

Based on my personal experience, the most useful skills I developed were during my Master’s in nuclear and molecular imaging, my time spent abroad in The Netherlands at the University College Utrecht, and in Taiwan at the National Cheng Kung University. During these experiences, I learned how to properly manage my time, find a good work/life balance, and developed self-care strategies. I also developed important soft skills (e.g., communication, teamwork, adaptability, etc.) and learned to relate to others from diverse backgrounds. Furthermore, I developed a deeper appreciation for other cultures and values and learned the importance of other individuals’ perspectives in resolving issues as we worked towards common goals. Lastly, I developed non-verbal communication skills which furthered my understanding of the important role it plays in how we communicate every day.

Q2: What is the one thing you wished you knew when you started medical school?

Prior to starting medical school, I had heard about the collaborative nature and friendly atmosphere amongst peers, colleagues, and faculty, however, I never imagined how supportive everyone truly is. By the end of first year, I had met some amazing people and we have become a small family; helping each other to be successful and get through things together. Through the highs and lows it is nice to know that there are people in your corner to help you and an equally nice feeling when you can support someone else when they need it. I wish I also knew how real Zoom fatigue can be! It was a big learning curve navigating the online format of medical school and learning how important it is to take frequent breaks, take time away from the screen, and spend time outside whenever possible. My takeaway from all that is to remember to take care of yourself and to allow for time to adjust to this unfamiliar learning style and environment.

Q3: Do you think you made the right choice coming to medical school? Why?

The short answer is 1000% I made the right choice! Getting to medical school is a culmination of all my academic and non-academic goals that I have worked so hard to achieve. In my view, the decision to be a physician is fostered in all of us who pursue a medical career and based on personal lived experiences. We all took different paths to get here, and we each have our own unique story, but for me, my journey included a constantly developing love for the sciences, humanities, and research, inspirational role models, and the prospect of being able to make a positive impact in peoples’ lives daily. To me, these are some of the elements that a career in medicine encompasses, like no other career. Every day is exciting and, to be honest, I still pinch myself. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Q4: How have you been able to navigate medical school during the pandemic?

By no means has it been easy but being able to go through all this change in this type of learning environment with my fellow peers – who understand the difficulties and challenges of this learning style and are so supportive of one another – has really helped me and has been instrumental in “surviving” and navigating pandemic medical school. This past year has been a testament of character building and resiliency; challenging us to adapt and be flexible with constantly evolving guidelines and ongoing uncertainty. Amongst all this change, however, one thing that has really helped me is having strong support networks such as my family, friends, and a very responsive and helpful team of faculty members dedicated to our success.

Some strategies that have helped me navigate studying during the pandemic and the shift to online learning include the implementation of two screens to watch lectures and take notes simultaneously and taking breaks to make time for exercise and other hobbies of mine (@gedaliahfarber to check out some of my photography). Lastly, a big part in getting through this year has been having the opportunity to get involved with different teams, organizations, research projects, and committees that help benefit students and community members. It has provided a sense of normalcy for me, while at the same time allowing me to give back to others and hopefully have a meaningful impact on other’s experiences.