This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with medical school applicants and students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the med school application process. And now, introducing a third year Canadian med student in Australia, Phillippa…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What’s your favorite non-school book?
Phillippa: I am from a lot of places but I call Victoria, BC, Canada home. Prior to living there I lived in smaller, more rural areas of BC as well as South Africa! My dad was born there and we used to visit often, but spent about a year living there back when I was 10, so I consider South Africa a piece of where I am from.
I went to the University of Victoria for undergrad and studied Kinesiology (known as exercise science here in Australia). I really enjoyed my undergraduate degree! It was interesting both as a career option and also for my own personal benefit, it definitely made me more fit and health conscious.
My favorite non-med book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I read it every year and have 5 copies because every time I see a different version with an interesting cover I have to buy it.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your journey to med school? When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in medicine?
Phillippa: My journey to med school was a tough one (whose isn’t though?). When I graduated from high school I wanted to be a writer, med was not even on my radar. I had struggled with my high school sciences and really didn’t think it was an option for me. But I ended up hating my first semester of writing and made the switch to kinesiology as soon as I could. It wasn’t until about two years into kinesiology that I realized med could be on the table for me. However, I still hadn’t reconciled with the hard sciences. Of course all of the exercise, physiology and anatomy based sciences I loved and excelled at, but my chemistry, physics, biochemistry and calculus marks were horrendous despite hours of study and tutoring.
Unfortunately most Canadian medical schools have a minimum grade cut-off for many of the prerequisite core sciences and I wasn’t making the cut, despite having straight A’s in all of my kinesiology courses and a high GPA overall.
The year I graduated I decided that I would apply to Australia for med and if I didn’t get in I would redo all of the courses that didn’t meet the minimum cut off for Canadian schools. I ended up getting into my first choice Australian medical school, the University of Wollongong and decided to accept and run with it.
Accepted: Why Australia?
Phillippa: I considered both Ireland and Australia for medical school. Both countries have higher match rates in Canada then the Caribbean schools and if I was going to study abroad I wanted to make the path home as hurdle free as possible. I chose Australia in the end because of the particular school I got into. It has a rural general practice focus, which is what I imagine myself doing, and I have extended family in the country, which helps with the homesickness!
Accepted: What’s your favorite thing about living on the other side of the globe? Least favorite?
Phillippa: My favourite part is that it has forced me out of my comfort zone. I am a homebody at a heart, I did my undergraduate degree in my hometown because I didn’t want to leave the comforts of home and I love weekends with my family. Moving across the globe has forced me to stand on my own two feet. If you told me 5 years ago I would be as far away from home as I could possibly get I would not have believed you for a second. But now here I am and I feel stronger and braver for it. I have also loved having the opportunity to live in and explore another country as a temporary resident. Australia is beautiful and wild and I am so grateful to have had the chance to experience it!
The worst part is of course the fact that I am a homebody and I do struggle with homesickness daily. It is very hard to be separated from the ones you love and not able to pop home for a quick weekend visit. Especially in times of stress when exams are looming, sometimes all you want is a weekend at home!
Accepted: Looking back at the med school application process, what would you say was your greatest challenge? How did you overcome that challenge, and how would you advise others who may be facing similar challenges?
Phillippa: My biggest challenge was silencing the voice in my head that kept telling me I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. In my heart I believed I could do it, but my brain kept reminding me how much I struggled in some of my science courses. My brain kept whispering doubt into my mind and it was hard to push that doubt aside and follow my heart.
To be honest it wasn’t until about 6 months into first year that I was finally able to convince myself I was good enough and I was smart enough and I could do it. I think that just came with experience and realizing everyone else was just as scared as I was. Seeing myself learn and succeed slowly boosted my confidence and now I know for sure I can do it, I just have to work hard and stay focused.
My advice to anyone else who is plagued with self-doubt is to focus on your dream and trust yourself. Study hard and believe that you will get there, it might be via the “scenic route” but even if it takes three years of rejection letters before you get in or a move to another country, if med is in your heart fight for it!
Accepted: Do you have any residency plans yet?
Phillippa: I’m not quite at this stage yet, I am hoping to do family medicine back in Canada but I have considered staying here as well. In Australia there is an intern year before training programs start which we don’t have back in Canada. I am still learning about all of my options right now, so you’ll have to check back in about a year!
Accepted: Where do you think you’ll end up long-term? Do you plan on returning to Canada?
Phillippa: Ultimately I would like to end up in Canada. I do love Australia and I am so happy I chose to study here, but it is very hard to be so far from family so ultimately I plan to make the trek back home. I imagine I will probably come back here later in my career for an extended working holiday, I don’t think I’ll ever leave Australia behind permanently!
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? Who is your target audience? How have you benefited from the blogging experience?
Phillippa: My blog is a bit of a mix of my personal med school journey, fitness, nutrition, science and positive thinking. I originally started the blog to inspire other prospective medical students who decided “late in the game” to pursue med, the ones who didn’t have the ideal GPA or the best prerequisite grades but who felt in their heart and soul that they could be a good doctor.
My love of fitness and food comes through in everything I do so it seemed natural to allow my blog to be influenced by my passions. One of the reasons I loved my undergraduate degree was that it empowered me to inspire a positive change in people and their health. Now that I am not working in the fitness field I hope to motivate people to stay fit and eat healthy through my blog.
You can read more about Phillippa’s med school journey by checking out her blog, Healthy Happy Me(d). Thank you Phillippa for sharing your story with us!
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