Connor Forbes, fourth-year medical student and recent matcher out of the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine gives us his expert advice on succeeding in medical school and beyond:
1. Tell us about yourself: Where are you from? What is your undergraduate degree and where did you receive it? Did you do anything between undergraduate and medical school?
Connor Forbes: My name is Connor and I am from Richmond, British Columbia … Geez, answering this question is giving me flashbacks to interviews! I did my undergrad in biochemistry at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, before coming to the University of British Columbia directly for four great years of medical school. My future goals are to become a good surgeon, and I hope to pursue further subspecialty training before setting up practice somewhere that I can stay involved in research and teaching.
2. What residency program will you be joining and where?
CF: I’ll be at the University of British Columbia for urology.
3. Looking back on your medical school experience, what would you say to the young and naïve “first-year you”?
CF: I would tell myself to keep pursuing my outside interests — life experiences turned out to be useful in medicine in all sorts of ways, and vice versa! I think that work expands to fill the time you give it, so making time for fun makes for more efficiency in your academic life.
4. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the first two years in the classroom?
CF: I found that it’s much better to have a really good understanding of basic concepts than to have a superficial understanding of all the details (although a mix of both is necessary). This will make you a better clerk and provider on the wards. That being said, up here in Canada we don’t write our USMLEs, so the system is a bit different.
5. What things did you do that you believe were valuable to succeed the second two years through clinical rotations?
CF: I found it useful to remind myself of my motivations. Every action you take as a clerk should be for the benefit of the patient, of the team, or of your learning (and often all three!) in that order. This includes making sure that you are safe at all times, and asking for help when you feel out of your depth. Think about yourself as a junior co-worker. You have a lot to learn, but you can still make yourself useful in some ways and hold yourself to the professional standards of the rest of the team.
6. What things did you do during your four years of medical school that stuck out or particularly impressed your residency program?
CF: Hard to say! I think that the most important selection criterion for surgical subspecialties is a good “fit” for the program personality-wise. I think that the number one thing students can do is be positive, hard-working, and friendly on rotations. If you get along well with a program, chances are they will want to have you around.
7. What things were unhelpful or you wish you hadn’t done in medical school?
CF: In my third year clerkship, there was a rotation halfway through the year that I consciously took it a bit easier on. It wasn’t a field in which I was interested, and I was worried about burning out at the end of the year. I found that I got a lot less out of it than if I had been fully engaged, and that I still had a lot left in the tank by the end of the year. I think that relaxing on rotations, although tempting, can be a wasted opportunity for you and for the team.
8. What was your level of involvement in research and other extracurricular activities, and your opinion on how important that involvement is?
CF: My level of involvement was high — student government, various committees, clubs, and so on. But I participated in them because I genuinely enjoyed the activities, and so ended up having a great experience. I think it’s important to do something with your time outside of medicine, but that it should be whatever makes you tick. Be it sport, travel, volunteering, or spending time with friends and family, doing what you like doing will help you grow better than anything else.
9. What attracted you to your chosen specialty?
CF: Coming to medical school I had surgical inclinations, but I wasn’t entirely set on any one specialty. I shadowed a few different types of surgeons and found that urologists were consistently some of the happiest. I found that the more I looked into the field, the more I liked it. The breadth of surgery in urology is unparalleled — everything from huge open bladder reconstructions (out of bowel, crazy!) to endoscopic procedures where you shoot stones with lasers. There’s a strong minimally invasive surgery component as well. The clinics are also interesting because there is no medical analogue for urology below the kidney. You end up being the medical expert on BPH, continence issues, stones, male infertility … the list goes on. I’m gushing a bit but it’s a great surgical and medical specialty, full of fun and happy people. Give it a serious think!
10. What attracted you to your residency program?
CF: All the urology training programs in Canada offer a great experience — you can’t go wrong. For me it was about finding the right mix of surgical exposure, research, mentorship, and overall “feel” of the program.
11. What things did you do to maintain your sanity in medical school?
CF: Sports are a big part of my life, so I made sure to make time to workout and kick around a soccer ball or hike with friends. Maintaining my social life was also a great way to reward myself for a good workweek.
12. The floor is yours — what do you wish to share with current medical students?
CF: Medical school is wonderful in that it’s set up to reward people who are altruistic, friendly and who care about what they are doing. Keep reminding yourself why you came to medical school, work hard to achieve it, and the rest falls into place. Good luck!