Mei Wen is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at the University of Toronto

 

“Intersectionality” was always a term that I saw in academic discussions, but never something I consciously thought of as it pertains to my own identity as a person of colour — a Chinese-Canadian — and a woman. This changed in my third year of medical school, when I was no longer in the safe space of a classroom but in the real world as a clinical clerk, interacting with people from all walks of life.

In the hospital, I grew accustomed to patients, nurses, and sometimes even colleagues assuming I was a nurse based on my appearance: a small, young-appearing Asian woman. But it wasn’t until a 5-year-old patient took one look at me and said with conviction, “You’re not a doctor, you’re a nurse! Because you’re a girl and girls are nurses and boys are doctors!” that I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I did not “naturally” belong in the space of medicine. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a nurse — they are amazing, competent individuals and I don't know how hospitals and clinics would run without them — but it's the automatic assumption that I am a nurse (which my male colleagues do not face) that is problematic.

I was shocked that a 5-year-old had already developed this mental schema of gender roles in medicine. Although it may be tempting to attribute this to the parents’ teaching or state it was just this particular child, it's important to take this opportunity to re-evaluate the societal views whereby — in this day and age — a 5-year-old child can be convinced that "women are nurses" is a fact. Based on this and many other similar situations, I have seriously considered choosing a specialty in medicine where female physicians are more prevalent and taken more seriously. This would be letting society's perceptions influence personal career decisions; it is the consequence of not-so-subtle remarks and micro-aggressions that shape our view on how we see ourselves as future female physicians and where we belong.

 

On intersectionality

In the same vein, I am a Chinese immigrant with a traditionally Chinese name; after having my name mispronounced or misspelled so many times by authority figures and my own institution, I have given consideration to anglicizing my name. But my name is part of my identity — why should I change it to appeal to Western standards in order to be taken seriously?

Amid my confusion, doubt, and frustration, I had a moment of insight: whether as an ethnic minority or a woman, if I am not experiencing any “-isms,” then I am not challenging the boundaries society has pre-determined for me. Instead of being discouraged by these comments, I should be encouraged to follow my own passions and be in a space where I may be the only Asian female physician in the room. All that matters is following my interests and passions, regardless of what society has said is my place. And hopefully, any future young medical student who may look like me will be able to see someone that does reflect who they are.

 

What a time to be alive 

In a time of #MeToo and #StandUp movements, it is crucial to continue challenging the systemic barriers that make it difficult for women to have a seat at the table. Training in Toronto, I am grateful for the systemic changes here, including opportunities such as the Summit for Academic Women in Medicine, which brings in female physician role models whom young trainees can look up to. I'm also starting to see many more female physicians of colour in practice and in academic settings, where they can make a significant impression on young trainees. With initiatives such as the Diversity Mentorship Program, set up through the University of Toronto, there are also formal channels to connect mentors to medical students with similar backgrounds and interests. Less formal — but no less important — is having allies and supports in the clinical space. I'll never forget when my one of my preceptors, a male emergency physician, went back into a room to correct a patient who called me a nurse as we left the room (after I had completed a full history and physical, and provided a plan).

Even with these promising examples, there is still much to improve. Despite the fact that 42% of Canadian physicians are female, when I broke down the numbers according to statistics from the Canadian Medical Association, there were a few notable gaps:

  • Regarding the age group under 35 years old, the numbers of female physicians outweigh male physicians by nearly 1.5 times (F: 4405, M: 2835). However, as age increases, the trend reverses; by age 55-64, males outnumber females (F: 7216, M: 12,710). This may reflect the admission rates in older times, but is that all there is to it?
  • With respect to statistical breakdowns by specialty, female physicians are almost equal in number compared with men within family medicine (F: 19,981, M: 23,499). However, this ratio shifts toward male predominance across most specialties — namely, emergency medicine (30% female), cardiology (22% female), anesthesiology (32% female), and surgical specialties (30% female, which is highly skewed by obstetrics and gynaecology).

And this is not even including statistics on women in leadership positions.

 

So... what now?

To all my colleagues who have ever felt like they should either change an unalterable aspect of themselves or change their aspirations in order to fit societal standards: know that you are not alone (check out this piece on HealthyDebate). I don't have a solution, but I know we can lift each other up: female comrades and male allies. As difficult as it may be, I’m making a promise to myself to strive to be in the space I want to be in, not the space I think I should be in by society’s standards.

My hope is that one day, when waiting to be seen by the doctor, it will become normal for a child to ask, “When is she coming?”

Sunjit Parmar is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at the University of British Columbia

 

 

 

Warmth as hostility in a cruel summer’s dream:

Surrounded by the thick, humid mid-summer air, I await the prickling breeze of late November.

I drift beneath the cool, dark shadows... a nearby cedar sways above.

Aware of the fiery weather, a sheath of saline smothering me, I mindlessly plunge into a slow, warm stream. Upset by the warmth of the swampy summer water, I catch sight of my reflection: a suddenly aged man. I look away. ...continue reading

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Michael Gritti is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at the University of Toronto

 

 

“To induce asystole as needed.”
Looking the decision in the face
wasn't as simple as I'd thought, I conceded.
But, simply, was it right? Was it just?

Eighty millimoles of potassium chloride: ...continue reading

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Dilshan Pieris is a second-year Masters Candidate in the Health Science Education program at McMaster University

 

When Breath Becomes Air
(Random House, 2016)

When Breath Becomes Air begins with Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s childhood life in Arizona, where he developed a passion for English literature and biology that provided the foundation for his desire to pursue medicine. During the first half of the book, Dr. Kalanithi writes about this journey, which notably involved attending several internationally-esteemed universities:  Cambridge, Yale, and Stanford. Not only did he graduate from these schools with honours — he was also pursuing the notoriously demanding specialty of neurosurgery. Despite the rigour of residency training in this discipline and a blooming relationship with his partner, Lucy, Dr. Kalanithi was not merely managing; he was gradually rising to prominence in the field as a clinician-scientist. ...continue reading

Dalia Karol is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at the University of Ottawa

 

“Why waste my summer travelling when I should be preparing for clerkship?” I have heard many students say this during medical school. As co-chair of the University of Ottawa Medical School Wellness Committee, I recognize the value of taking time for oneself during medical school — especially since medical students are at high risk of burnout. While I appreciate the value of pursuing clinical and research electives, finding time to travel during our last month-long summer break can also be rewarding. Shared here are some of the lessons I have learned through travelling and how they have allowed me to reflect on my medical school experiences, gain a broader perspective, and make valuable international connections.

After spending time travelling in Europe during the summer after first year — gaining new perspectives while exploring the world outside of medicine — I began my second year energized for my classes, research, and electives. ...continue reading

Maggie Hulbert is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at Queen's University

 

Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371
(Penn State University Press, 2017)

The HIV/AIDS Care Unit (Unit 371) at Chicago’s Illinois Masonic Medical Centre was founded on a heartbreakingly simple observation. “We are all just people taking turns being sick,” stated Dr. David Blatt, one of the founders of Unit 371, in MK Czerwiec’s newest graphic novel — the aptly named Taking Turns: Stories from the HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Czerwiec was a brand-new nursing graduate on 371 during the height of the HIV epidemic, and Taking Turns is in many ways her tribute to the unit’s extraordinary spirit. The intention of the unit was made clear from day one: this would be a place where the most stigmatized and ostracized patients could be cared for with empathy, understanding, and love. ...continue reading

Laura Kim is a medical student in the Class of 2019 at the University of British Columbia

 

I’m a 3rd year medical student.

But I’m not just a medical student. Before August 2015, I had a life that was full and rich and medicine-free. Today, my life is no longer medicine-free — but I refuse to allow it to be any less full or rich.

I’m not just a med student.
I’m a pediatrics gunner, a student politics junkie, and a francophone-wannabe.
I’m a dancer, a baker, and a knitter.
I’m a Harry Potter-fanatic, a Sav Blanc expert, and a nap-connoisseuse.
I’m a loving girlfriend, an overbearing older sister, and a fierce friend.
I’m loyal, compassionate, caring, sarcastic, and (often) a hot mess.
I’m a poor parallel parker, a clumsy clerk, and a top-notch procrastinator. ...continue reading

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Ruth Chiu is a medical student in the Class of 2018 at McMaster University

 

From 1975 to 1980, over two million Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian refugees fled from Communist states to refugee camps across Asia and became known internationally as ‘Boat People.’1,2 In response to this crisis and under significant public pressure, the Canadian government accepted 60 000 Southeast Asians as government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees between 1979 and 1980.3

The exodus of Southeast Asian refugees was by no means the first of its kind in history. However, Canada’s response to this refugee crisis was unique in its magnitude from both a national and international perspective. Political drivers, such as the adoption of the more inclusive Immigration Act of 1976 and the recent election of Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark after 16 years of Liberal rule, contributed to the unprecedented settlement of Southeast Asian refugees in Canada.4,5 Public interest in the crisis, heavily piqued by international news media, allowed for the success of the newly formalized private sponsorship program which supported two-thirds of the Boat People who settled in Canada.6,7 ...continue reading

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Hassan Hazari is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at Queen's University

 

The inclusion of arts and humanities in medical curricula has been a standard part of the student’s learning experience since the 1990s. The arts are credited with nurturing the skills and attitudes necessary for meaningful human interaction and personal development. McMaster University’s “Art of Seeing” program demonstrated that an arts-based curriculum promoted empathic development (Zazulak et al., 2017). The visual arts are a particular area of focus, as studying visual art not only has humanistic value but has also been shown to improve technical skills such as observation. Art-making (distinct from art observation) has been shown to foster humanistic and advocacy-orientated inclinations as well as promote learning in medical students (Cox et al., 2016; Courneya, 2017).

Among the workshops, talks, and meetings at this year’s Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME), there was a room that was transformed into an art gallery. ...continue reading

Zeenat Junaid is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at Bahria University in Pakistan

 

I checked his file again and looked up to see the patient with a tube hanging off his shaved head. Mr. Taj Saboor, 48 years old, had brain cancer —glioblastoma multiforme. It had been removed twice in the last six months, and each time it had returned with pugnacious insistence. If cancers were little shoots and plants, or even weeds or bushes, then glioblastoma multiform would surely be Jack's colossal beanstalk of lore spurting straight up to the sky. It is fast; it is monstrous. Even when meticulously removed, one never knows where else in the brain the beans have been strewn and where hell may again break loose. It surely is the grand master of all stealthy and lethal cancers. ...continue reading