The CaRMS Season Begins Again

It is that time of year again.

It is CaRMS season, which means the time when all kinds of half terrified fourth year medical students circumnavigate this fine country of ours in the search of a residency position.  And that means interviews, dinners, travel and tons of indecision/contemplation.  At least that is what it meant for me.

Today was my program’s interview day and tonight is our meet and greet dinner for the candidates.  I am a bit excited to meet the people this year and eventually find out who will be our new office buddy starting in July.

Funny thing is, I am a bit nervous to meet them.  I want them to like us.  But really, it only matters that the one person we acquire likes us in the end.  And, as I said on the CaRMS tour, like attracts like and the applicants will tend towards the same level of super cool radiation oncology people as the people already in my program do.

It seems crazy that I blogged my across Canada Rad Onc tour of CaRMS awesomeness two whole years ago, now.

I am sure somebody will stumble upon this page looking for interview survival tips or something.    I suppose I will share a few.

  1. Go to your interview and dinner.  I am not on the selections committee, but I find it kind of offputting if you don’t even make an effort to at least show your face to the interview.  I get that sometimes circumstances make people unable to travel and need phone interviews, but showing up shows interest.  How can you decide to move somewhere if you have never been there?  Just saying.
  2. Capitalize on the free food, offers for free drives and all that good stuff.  All the travel if you are doing a bunch of interviews gets expensive.
  3. Try to actually see some of the cities you visit, even if just for an hour or two.  It makes the trip more fun and it helps to make you really get a picture of what living there could be like.
  4. Keep a list of the good and bad points of the program and city after the interview.  They all can start to jumble together.  Plus, it is easier to have a discussion or pro-con list making event with your significant other, friend, cat or self if you actually have your initial impressions to look back on.
  5. Get to know the other people on the tour with you.  Odds are most of them are just as “cool” as you and just as scared as you too.  They will be your colleagues one day.  Plus, it is nice to have partners in crime on the adventure that is traveling from place to place.  You can carpool, explore and get lost as a team.

 

I am glad that I am done with this stuff.  Okay, so realistically I still have fellowship applications and/or job applications to go, but the actual insanity that is CaRMS is over. 

Good luck to everyone CaRMS-ing out there.  And feel free to ask me questions if you have any you think I might be able to answer.

Stranger

I always seem to be behind on the Daily Prompts… Probably because I don’t seek out to do them, but every once in awhile one of them catches my eye… This is the second one this week… Crazyness.

The prompt I am choosing to follow is entitled “Stranger.”  It asks, “Have you ever had a random encounter or fleeting moment with a stranger that stuck with you?”

My response is heck yes.

I tend to attract random encounters.  I am the person who talks to people on airplanes, helps you find an item in a store or runs head on into in the hall.

This particular encounter played a massive role in me settling into Nuc Med and into Medicine as a career.

I call it a God-moment.  Some people call it fate.  Others randomness.  Whatever it was, I am grateful for it.

So, flash back to February or March 2005.  I am a first year Science student, it is the one afternoon a week I don’t have class and I pick up a flauta from the nice man at the City Market (who is still there, might I add) and hopped on the bus back to the hospital.

It was the day of my Nuc Med interview.  If I got in to this program, then I would transfer degrees and I would be set for a career at the end of this.  No pressure.

I went to the hospital cafeteria to kill time and eat my flauta.  It was super busy, but I found a seat at a table for two that overlooked the lobby, hauled out my flauta and a book, popped in my headphones (aka my anti-social devices) and planned to kill the next 30 minutes studying for whatever quiz was upcoming (and trying to ignore the serious case of butterflies I had).

This adorable elderly lady came up to me with her tray… A sandwich and tea.  She asked if she could sit with me because the place is packed.

In my head I wanted to tell her no.  That the last thing I wanted to do was share my table and actually possibly have a conversation.

My Mother did not raise me to say such things.

So, I invited her to sit down.

She was stressed.  Her husband was in the hospital.  Cancer and there was something wrong with his heart too, she thought.  He went for tests, so she came down to eat something.

She asked what I was doing there.  I told her I was there for an interview.  She didn’t really understand what for and asked if I was going to be a doctor.

This was something I was toying with at that time.  It was a possibility.  A distant one, but something that had bounced around in my head.

I told her maybe, but that this interview was to be something like a person who does x-rays.

She then told me about how wonderful everyone was with her husband.  She assured me I will be a wonderful doctor and that my interview would be fine.  She then went on her way.

I never saw her again.

I thought the encounter was a bit funny.  I thought it was just an old lady not understanding that I wasn’t going to be a doctor.  That I might actually wind up becoming and engineer or some sort of scientist.

She did make me feel more at ease.

The interview went well. I got in.  And years later I became a doctor.

It sounds silly, but I felt like God stuck her there to encourage me.  To keep me from freaking out.  And maybe to keep me pointed in that direction.

I wonder what became of her, and of her husband.

I may never know.

But, her simple words, that random encounter sticks with me.

Exit Bullies. Enter Medicine.

Today was exit interview day for me and a group of my classmates.  This is a fabulous opportunity that our school gives us to sit down with the assistant Dean and discuss the pearls and pitfalls of medical training at our particular institution.  And to get free pizza lunch (always a win).

I think it is great that they debrief the grads in such a way.  I think it is a more effective way of finding out what is going right or wrong and have a discussion about how to change things.  Plus, it is a great chance to give credit where credit is due to some of our amazing clinical preceptors that don’t otherwise get much attention.

My medical school is awesome.  We may be one of the smallest in Canada, but we get top notch clinical training and we have so much independence so early on that we feel well prepared to start clerkship.  It was great to discuss how great the good things are.

But, like any medical school (at least, I am assuming), there are some sub cultures that are less than appealing.  Those hogged a good later chunk of our conversations.

The main issue at hand in our discussion of the bad stuff was the culture of bullying in medicine, not just at our school, but during our electives and selectives away as well.  I know this is an ongoing issue in Medicine.  As the Dean said, it has been something people have been dealing with for at least 30 years (since she started school here).  On the bright side, she agreed with us that things are a hundred times better than they once were, but that there is still obvious room for improvement everywhere.

Bullying in the workplace is something many professions deal with.  In Medicine, I feel it can be taken to the extreme.  I feel blessed that I work in a society and at a time in which much of it is prevented, at least compared to back in the “old boys’ club” days.  But, I think where Medicine is such a hierarchy, sometimes people take advantage.

The majority of faculty is amazing, kind or at least tolerable people who want to teach (or at least don’t hinder learning).  They use constructive criticism.  And yes, there is a culture where pimping is acceptable.  I may not like it, but it is part of things.  And sometimes a touch of humiliation goes a long way to teaching someone a lesson or making you remember something.

But, there is a far cry between pimping and constructive criticism and the odd episode of embarrassment to getting a strip torn off you in front of patients and peers.  It is one thing to be put under pressure to perform, but another to have something thrown at you because you aren’t quick enough at suturing in the OR.  And its not just physicians either… I have been bullied by other medical professionals who feel they have the upper hand over we inferior clerks.

You have probably seen it on TV… Think Christina Yang on Grey’s banning her interns from the OR and making them run her personal errands.

These things very, very rarely happen.  But, they still do.  And in almost any other profession would be considered unacceptable.  And in this profession, they are considered unacceptable.  Yet, people who teach us still sometimes get away with them.

The funny part is that sometimes, we just think it is normal.  Yes, so-and-so throws things now and again, but he is a great surgeon.  Or, he definitely objectifies women, but if you act like you don’t care, he won’t bother you too much.  It becomes part of our day-to-day.  We don’t like it, but we really don’t do anything about it.  Because it generally isn’t a big issue or we are scared or often it just doesn’t come up because it is just so “normal.”

This brought us to a discussion about disciplinary action and our reporting system.  As Clerks, we are at the bottom of the food chain.  We are scared to report anything for fear that it may somehow negatively impact our evaluation, our reputation or our future employment.  Living in a small place can make word get around fast.  Nobody wants to be “that person.”  As a result, often events don’t get formally reported.  Or, if they do, they are more often by hearsay and cannot be used as documented evidence.  Plus, the small town culture makes situations in which everyone knows who does these things and you “just avoid them.”  Because that is all you can do.  Because everyone knows and nothing can be done.

It seems backwards.  We talked about better ways of making evaluations anonymous, but even then, there is still fear that the person would find out.  Plus, formal action requires formal letters. Scary stuff.   And sometimes, we don’t even know the aggressor’s name or can’t have a formal evaluation because they aren’t a physician, but a nurse or RT who works on the floor.

Then, many of the culprits are older (stereotypically) and are tenured.  Which, thanks to the university makes them fairly untouchable.  Apparently, people can lose their housestaff privileges for reported bullying if it is appropriately documented and is serious enough (losing housestaff would then require the physician to do all of his/her own work, including the portion normally managed by clerks and residents… This would be a big imposition, especially for someone who is used to having housestaff).  Especially if it jeopardizes accreditation.  It has happened elsewhere, we were told.  They, however, cannot be fired or anything like that unless there was legal action, which would be a really extreme case.

We also talked about the fact that we all see this as wrong.  We talked about primary prevention.  That perhaps, unfortunately, we may not change the people who see this as a “right of passage” or who see nothing wrong with their behavior.  But, that we cannot bully our students.  That we can make sure the “right of passage” is reasonable and does not include reducing people to tears or doing things that generally constitute some sort of assault.  We considered that if we were to have a reporting system in place, we can weed out, or at least try to weed out people who will cause trouble before they are tenured and more difficult to reprimand.

We agreed that some of the pimping and correction and even, yes, a touch of humiliation is a part of medicine, just like the sleep deprivation and the famed “peds sick.”  But, that does not mean that you can be a bully about it.

Bullying in medicine is a culture.  A food chain attitude.  A superiority complex.  That does not excuse it or make it better.

Clearly, there has been a culture shift.  Or at least a start of one, especially at our school.  And I think that the culture shift is for the better.  I am not “soft.”  But, I am not going to eat people alive.  We have learned to center care around patients, we have learned that doctor does not always learn best, but when are we going to learn to fully practice what we preach?  That bullying is not okay in schools, therefore, it is not okay in hospitals?  I think we are getting there.  Accreditation is there.  Programs can lose accreditation if they have too many issues with workplace bullying.  And I think overall, there is little bullying.  One or two bullies and a few people with some missing social skills.  Perhaps another couple who are ridiculously traditional.  I think the outliers just need to find their way to the place where you can be traditional, but have some sort of tact.  And by appropriate evaluation and safe reporting, as well as collegial support, we can get there.  We are almost there.

It was a great discussion.  It is always good to know that things are changing and that we are improving as individuals and as a school.   I think it was also fascinating to discuss the culture in medicine and how there is a big movement to move away from the bullying and such.  It is interesting to see how in some ways, we are going to be part of the change that happens in the culture of medicine by having a voice in such matters.

It sounds cheesy, but we agreed we wanted to be the change we want to see.  Because sometimes, the people who are most affected are the people with the least voice.  And as we “grow up” in the world of medicine, we can try to protect those in our position now or at least try to help, not by coddling, but with tough love and constructive correction WITHOUT degrading the people in question.

Interviews en revue

I promise that this will hopefully be the last post about CaRMS interviews for a really long time.  I have been thinking about my recent experiences and how they all play together.  And I had an interview nightmare last night.  You think those would be done by now.

Last night was by far the most fun I have had on the CaRMS tour (minus when I actually got home).  We went to the social, at which most of the staff and residents came.  It was very East Coast.  We ate at a pub, you know, fish and chips, lobster rolls, burgers.  It was very relaxed and fun.  After that, a core group of us went to this fabulous Halifax spot called My Father’s Moustache where we basically sat around and had drinks whilst discussing our adventures in interviewing, sports, TV and life, as well as where we all actually want to match.  All the while watching the Habs game where Gomez FINALLY got a goal after a 365 day dry spell.

It is funny, but I am really going to miss those people.  At least the cool part is that we will all be colleagues in the future and we will see each other at conferences and all that fun stuff.  I was right when I said earlier on in the tour that we will likely get along because of the whole premorbid personality for the specialty.  We are all a bit different, but we just seemed to work well together.  It felt normal to be hanging out like that and we have only known one another for a few weeks.

So, all that to say… Here is my version of the tour in revue.

Prettiest Hospital:  It’s a tie between the Juravinski in Hamilton and CancerCare Manitoba.

Ugliest Hospital:  McGill University Hospital.

Best interview day meal in Hospital: London… Pasta of all kinds.  Ottawa came in a close second with Greek food.

Best interview day meal outside of Hospital: Well, Calgary wins this by default, but it was ridiculously good.

Best social:  This is a tough call, I liked a few for differing reasons.  If I had to go with food alone, I would pick either the Thai place in Ottawa or Italian in Edmonton.  They were all good.

Longest and most expensive cab ride: Edmonton and Toronto tied.  Halifax would have won, but we all knew better and took a shuttle.

Most fun in a city non-interview related:  Ottawa… You just can’t beat the All-Stars.

Best museum-like place (because Patrick claims this was more of a museum/sushi tour for me): Vancouver Aquarium, hands down.

Best sushi: Halifax.  This is not a reflection of overall sushi quality in any one city.  Everyone says Vancouver has the best sushi.  Its just the sushi I had there was sub-par.  The sushi in Halifax, however was the best in my tour.

Best other food place: Pakistani/Indian restaurant in Kingston.  Any place where you have the choice of mild, medium, Canadian hot or Pakistani hot has to be a winner.

Best hotel:  Atlantica in Halifax.

Scariest interview: Vancouver.  Giant man-eating panel and the first interview… Eep.

Most relaxed interview: Hamilton.  Only a couple scripted questions and more conversation about hockey than anything else.

Most shocking question for me:  Why didn’t you do your Masters?

Most shocking question for others: Getting grilled about doing their USMLEs.

Strangest question for me (not scripted):  Name your favorite hockey team and where and what you did when Sidney Crosby scored the “golden goal” in the Vancouver Olympics.

Strangest question for others (not scripted): What do you think about fighting in hockey?

Strangest question (scripted): First place- Rorschach Ink Blot.  Second place- Name a fictional character that would make a good radiation oncologist.  Third place- What is your favorite word?

Most challenging question of a technical/knowledge variety:  Define statistical significance.

Most awkward moment: Walking into the Vancouver interview room and seeing the giant panel at the giant table and feeling terrified.  Then someone saying, “yes, it is rather intimidating.”  Then, realizing that I actually did have a “deer caught in head lights look.”  Second place is when I got asked if I could speak French and answered yes, then was told that I should have answered in French, so I did and the person asking told me never mind.

Stupidest thing I said in an interview:  “We really just want to get out of Newfoundland.  Its nice and all, but anywhere on the mainland is better than there for us.”  Interviewer: “I’m from Newfoundland.  And are you saying that we are just anywhere?”  Annnd commence digging self out of hole.

Craziest thing I saw:  In the Toronto airport… There was this woman who sat across from me waiting for my flight to Kingston and she seemed to be talking to herself.  Then out popped a small dog from her bag.  She was talking about herself in the third person saying things like, “Get out and walk around for a bit, it is going to be a long flight and Mommy doesn’t want you to get blood clots in your legs.”  She then proceeded to take out what she called the dog’s suitcase… A large purse… And got some kibble telling the dog, “You need to eat something, Mommy really thinks you need some food.”  She gave the dog a drink from a water bottle she just drank from.  She also offered the dog a clementine saying, “Do you want an orange?” When the dog sniffed it and carried on sniffing the floor… Like a dog should, she concluded, “I guess you don’t want an orange, so Mommy will have it, but you still need to eat.”  This was unreal.  I tried so hard not to laugh out loud.  And failed a bit.  I know people love their dogs.  But really?  This was ridiculous.  Especially when I was so sleep deprived.

Coolest God moment:  If I am just going for the most random God moment, then hearing “Your Love” in the elevator on he way to the BC interview.  For an overall God is awesome moment, it was knowing that I had friends and family praying for me over this entire journey and truly felt a peace that I think only God (and excessive repetition) can bring during the interview process.

And… That’s a wrap.  I am headed home-home for a few days with family and friends and our church’s famed winter carnival.  Something that I have missed so much since I have been away… Potlucks, bad variety shows and my church family.  What a way to relax and rejuvenate post-interviews.

Stick a fork in me, I’m done!

Well, it’s a wrap!

Yes, at long last, my CaRMS interview tour has come to a close.  Actually, there is a social tonight, but nonetheless the interview, which is the most important part, is done.

12 interviews

11 cities

6 provinces (plus the pending visit home-home and then back home makes it 8)

It legitimately felt as crazy as it seems to look on paper.  And now it is done.

Today’s interview is at a program where I have done electives and where I knew I would know the majority of people on the interviewing panel.  Such a comfort.  And yet, I think because I knew so many of them, I was more nervous because the last thing one wants to do is look like a tool in interviews, especially in front of people you know and respect.

I wasn’t scheduled to interview until 3:30, but we were all invited to attend Oncology Grand Rounds and get lunch there, so I went in for 12:30… Free food and education, what a bargain.  The topic was breast reconstruction post-lumpectomy and mastectomy.  It was fascinating.  I know, you may not agree.  But, I didn’t know there were so many options available and the thought process behind when and how to do the reconstruction.

Most of the people interviewed in the morning.  Only three of us were scheduled for the afternoon.  There were 5, but two cancelled.  So, thankfully, the interviewers agreed to move our times up, so we wouldn’t be stuck loitering in the department for hours and also so they could finish early… Win-win.

We went on a tour of the department.  They are currently expanding and getting some new machines in the next few months but construction was not yet complete for us to see it.  Nothing else has changed since my time there.  It is an older facility… No real natural light in the rad onc department.  Clinics are decent, but somewhat crowded.  The resident room is nice… Everyone has their own desk and computer and there are two windows (epic!!).  They have 10 rad onc dedicated inpatient beds… And new floors (yes, he pointed out the new flooring).  The floor is shared with gyne onc and palliative medicine.  It felt pleasant.

It was so nice to be back at interviews with the people I have gotten to know.  Chatting before the interview.  Sharing plans for the afternoon.  Planning for the post-social fun to come.

The interview itself was great.  The panel was big.  Not UBC big, but the next largest for sure.  Semi-overwhelming.  At least I knew 5/6 of them and knew of the other person.  It makes things a lot easier.  But nonetheless, the first chunk of the interview I spent glancing around as if I had a nervous tick in an attempt to make eye contact with everyone.  So weird.  It got more relaxed and I felt very comfortable.  It was definitely more of a get to know you type interview with only a couple standardized questions and then others about me as a person and about my CV.

Most unusual question: This is a two part question… What is your favorite hockey team (this was prefaced with the fact that this answer could make or break my residency career)?  Part two was where were you and how did you react to Sidney Crosby’s OT goal in the Vancouver Olympics.  I answered honestly and told them the Montreal Canadiens to which I got two high fives and two loud groans saying they will beat that out of me later.  They then asked if I was brainwashed as a child.  I said yes.  As for the Olympics question, we watched the game on Patrick’s laptop with his parents and we were somewhat time delayed, so I had received a text alluding to the fact we had won before the goal happened.  So I cheered and followed it up with a “I knew it!”  They thought that was pretty funny.

Question that took me most by surprise: Obviously the above questions won this as well.  If I had to pick another question unique to this, it would be the why are you interested in teaching question, which was followed up with a how would you feel about doing something like a medical education elective or masters in medical education.  All of which are appealing to me.

I rewarded myself on the walk back to the hotel with a tiramisu cake pop and a latte.  I also took a stroll through the medical school campus and took a few pictures.

Welcome to Dalhousie.

The Cancer Centre building.

The new research building, mainly for cancer research.

Clinical research building.

The medical school.

This building was in the medical/dentistry area... I don't know what it is but it is cool.

Back to the East Coast

I am back in the East Coast.  And it feels so lovely and homey and East Coasty.  I don’t know why, but it just seems to be much more settling to be in an area that is more familiar.  And in a time zone that is closer to what I would consider my baseline.

One of my measures of closeness to home is the degree of chattiness of cab drivers.  I realize this is a flawed measure and that it is more of a reflection of the friendliness of the individual or the city, not the geographic region.  Nonetheless, I noted as I traveled across Canada, I went from silent rides to awkward small talk to full fledged conversation (exception Toronto and Montreal… likely the big city feel, I don’t know).  Today I took a cab to my interview and learned where the driver was from, where he had visited recently and the full weather forecast.  So nice.

Today, my interview was not until 4pm, so I had a ton of time to kill.  I slept until I couldn’t sleep anymore and then hit the road.  I explored the neighborhood, which I was somewhat familiar with, as I had stayed here previously and then went to the Natural History museum.  The museum was pretty cool and even had monkeys.  Plus, it was a bargain… Never hurts.

View from the hotel.

Skating rink around a track and what looks to be some sort of armoury.

The Halifax Infirmary.... One of the many Halifax hospitals.

There are not one, not two, but three snakes intertwined in there.

Gus. The museum's 70+ year old turtle.

Monkey in the rainforest exhibit.

Another rainforest exhibit monkey.

Fungus, anyone?

Eggs!

The "smallest" bone in a whale... The ear bones.

Today, my interview was in Internal Medicine.  Not my usual.  I like internal medicine.  I could be happy doing it.  Very happy.  I felt very different in this interview.  It was less predictable.   Not that there were weird questions, but that I haven’t done an internal med interview.  And because all of my prepped answers are not geared towards internal medicine.  I answered honestly and was being genuine, but it still felt fake, probably because I am just not as drawn to the program or as in that mind set at this time.  It was also strange because I didn’t have my new friends.  You see, it is pretty much consistently the same people doing the rad onc interviews.  I had never seen these people before and the atmosphere was not as informal/chatty as ours is while waiting for interviews.  Definitely because nobody knew each other.  First meeting for all of us (because there are so many rad onc applicants.

An example of a Rorschach style of inkblot. Image from http://blog.lib.umn.edu

Most unusual question:  This was in the resident section of the interview… It started with the fact that we all have to make quick decisions when things go downhill on the wards… Then they asked us to pick a number between 1 and 4.  I picked 3 (one of my favorite numbers).  They showed me a Rorschach Ink Blot.  I said it looked like a pumpkin head.  Apparently I am one of 3 of the 130 people interviewed that said that.  Interesting.  If I had been more clever and quick on my feet, I would have said a Rorschach Ink Blot.  Missed opportunity.

Question that took me most by surprise: Do you have any concerns about going to the Saint John program?  My initial thought was no… I want to live in Saint John.  What they were going for was that it is a newer, smaller satellite program.  So, I talked about how there are problems with every program and that I don’t have any major concerns, as I know it is based off of the same structure used in Halifax.  I also have to add that they also asked me if I speak French, but did not require me to speak it at that instant.

Overall, the interview was okay.  I don’t feel like I aced it.  I don’t feel like I looked like a total fool.  I didn’t go to the tour or lunch, nor am I going to the social.  The times didn’t work for me, especially given the interview time.

On the way back to my hotel, I stopped for sushi at one of the places we didn’t manage to try whilst on elective here (a few of us turned it into a sushi tour).  I also went to Pete’s Frootique.  Yes, Pete, from the ATV evening news (maritmers will get this).  The original-ish Frootique.  I got a smoothie and marveled at the selection.   I also got a few pictures of Citadel Hill… I may try to go up tomorrow if I have the time in the morning.

The buildings on Citadel Hill.

Citadel Hill.

Interview in Habsland

My language insecurity persisted today.  50% of the candidates are legitimately Quebec French, so of course I felt like my French was a little substandard.  The good part is that I can at least carry on some semblance of a conversation and for that I am truly grateful.   It even came up in 2/3 interview stations, despite the school being Anglophone, as the patient population is in its majority bilingual, but a portion is unilingual French.

On pulling up to the hospital I noted one major factor… One, it was huge and two it was not pretty.  This hospital is what East Coast hospitals are like… Older ones.  Very different than those out west and even in Ontario.  I learned that the health care funding in Quebec is not as good as in some other provinces and that there are problems with aging facilities.  I also learned that the Jewish Hospital is significantly more aesthetically pleasing and that they are currently building a new hospital that is the typical classy modern slated to open in 2014… So, if I were to go there, I would benefit from said hospital.

The hospital has an interesting build to it.  I entered on the 6th floor.  The radiation oncology department is on the 5th and built into the side of the hill and under the parking lot.  Good use of natural rock for shielding.  Unfortunately, not good for natural light.  There is one skylight at the front of the department and apparently, this needs to be removed and a crane drops in the new linear accelerators, as the doors and elevators are not wide enough to accommodate.  That I would want to see.

The department itself is well equipped and at the forefront of research in several aspects.  All of the cool toys are there or coming, including an MRI simulator, tomotherapy and a ton of brachytherapy.

I was really impressed with the friendliness of the residents and how well they all get along.  It says a lot about the program.  The two chief residents were ridiculously enthusiastic about selling the program to us.  One of them said, and I quote, “This program is legend… Wait for it… Dary!”  The same one also informed the women in the group that Quebec has the best maternity leave plan in Canada for residents and thus the female residents “pop out babies like machines.”  Made my day.

The interview had a similar feel to many of the others.  Three panels of two for twenty minutes each.  The questions were generally straightforward.  No big technical curveballs, but lots of very standardized questions that repeated somewhat between stations.  The first station I went to was especially chatty and I had to be extracted from the room by my next interviewer.  Too funny.

Most unusual question:  What is your favorite word?  After much deliberation, I answered fabulous… It sounds dramatic and it is a fun word that can be used in a number of situations to describe great things.  Also, that is what I thought very sarcastically when the question was asked.  In retrospect, there are other significantly more awesome words like cacophony and scintigraphy.

Question that took me most by surprise:  This one is a toss-up.  One interviewer asked me why did I choose Radiation Oncology when I have such a strong Palliative Medicine background.  I was expecting the imaging one, but not that.  The same guy asked me why I didn’t do further education?  I was kind of confused, I mean, I am in med school for goodness sakes.  But, he is an MD-PhD, so I get it.  He wanted to know why if I had a high GPA and do well academically I chose to go to med school and not do a Masters and such.  The answer is easy… I got in to med school.  Why prolong things?  I can do a Masters in residency if I so desire.  I would consider it if it doesn’t interfere too much with life and school and my finish date.

By the time all of that was over, we had lunch… Baguette sandwiches… So good.  I was disappointed that I didn’t get to have a Montreal bagel, though.  I may try to find some in the airport.  I was sharing a cab with someone and didn’t even get a chance to take pictures of the hospital, though I did get a few pictures of McGill at night (on my way home from the social).   I did, however, find a Montreal Canadiens parapanalia store and got Patrick a surprise.  Pretty neat what one can find in an airport.

Welcome to McGill!

Pillars at McGill entrance.

Building.

Main McGill campus area with delightful lighting.

Chiac, questionable bilingualism and a musical interlude

Day one in Montreal.  I left St. John’s after only being there for approximately 30 hours… I have worked longer call shifts… Just saying.  At least I got home and did laundry and saw Patrick and most of my non-school friends.  Plus I got to go to church.  It was quite lovely.  And exhausting!

This will be a short one as I have to get sleep pre-interview.  It had no general theme or flow, as I just wanted to recap a few thoughts before I forgot again.  I had an hour an a half nap this afternoon because I was so tired I felt ill.  Pretty impressive for someone who generally doesn’t nap.

Since arriving in Montreal, I have realized that my French is very rusty.  I am self-conscious of my French, given that despite my Francophone roots, I have a very English accent, as my primary language is English.  I took the equivalent of university French in High School and did very well.  Problem is that since high school, beyond the odd conversation with family and a french patient, I don’t use my French, and when I do it is definitely maritime slang French, aka chiac.  So, I realized that simple things like ordering from restaurants or hanging out with bilingual residents draws attention to my underused French and unusual dialect of choice.

I want to improve on this.  I’d like to take a course in medical French and maybe get speaking it more, so that I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious and nervous about using what French I have.

I drove past the Bell Center today… It was epic.  Too bad I didn’t have my trusty camera available.  One day I will go in and see the Montreal Canadiens play… One day… And hopefully they will win.

Supper was great… We went to a trendy restaurant with delicious food.  The majority of residents came out… Always impressive.  There are 8 of us interviewing tomorrow.  Problem was that this restaurant is loud… It has music that, throughout the course of the night grew progressively louder… And louder.  You couldn’t carry on conversations beyond the person beside you.  Made me want to scream and flap, though, I refrained and just looked semi-distressed.

Lastly on an awesome music note, OK Go has a new video out on YouTube that is quite awesome with regards to the use of random things for music, including a car!   I love their style in general and the use of instruments and original sound.  We don’t always get a lot of this these days with our modern sound mixers and electronics.  

They also have a fabulous music video… And my favourite all time song of theirs that involves a marching band.  Given I played and taught a marching band for a ton of years, this is near and dear to my heart (feel free to judge).  

Blizzards, lemons and planes… That about sums up my day.

This image shows a whole and a cut lemon. It i...

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You know the saying… When life gives you lemons… Make lemonade.  Well, I once heard and loved the alternate to this… Cut them into quarters and squeeze them into other people’s eyes.  Not that I generally want to make other people more miserable than I, but it is kind of funny.  And makes me feel significantly better.

Why am I talking about lemons, might you ask?

Well, my flight home got cancelled last night.  Due to a blizzard.  That had yet to actually start, though all of the airline staff swore it did.  Patrick lives 10 min from the airport… No storm… Just a little flurry.  Perhaps some wind.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Nonetheless, we couldn’t even go and try to land.  People were bitter.  I was bitter.  I had been up since 4am and looking forward to going home all week.  But, no dice.  There are some conspiracy theories floating around, but overall people just settled on the fact that we weren’t getting out last night.

The kind folks at WestJet put us up in hotels.  I was one of the few that were sent to a Hilton.  This is pretty exciting given that I haven’t actually stayed at a Hilton before.  Not like I cared a lot, but still cool.  I think it might have been that I looked like I was going to cry when they said the next possible flight was 24 hours later (tonight).  Who knows?  They also gave me food vouchers… That I didn’t use that night given my main goal was sleep.

The hotel shuttle was yet another adventure.  The four of us going to the Hilton (well, the four of us stupid enough to wait at the shuttle area like you are supposed to) watched the Comfort Inn van come 4 times.  That was about 20 minutes of outside waiting for a bus that was coming “right away.”  We had a running joke about walking to the hotel or sharing a cab or perhaps hijacking the Comfort Inn van.  It was cold and dark and the people I was waiting with were supposed to be headed to Orlando (their flight was overbooked) and were not dressed for the occasion.

At long last, I got to the hotel.  And after crying like a child for a good 20 minutes, I discovered the TV.  They had one of my favorite movies from my later teens.  So, I watched that until I fell asleep and woke up again to call Patrick.

This morning I realized the place was quite nice.  Except for one thing… My curtains didn’t close.  This happened to me in Winnipeg too… There are sheers and curtains.  But the curtains are on short tracks that don’t meet anywhere near the middle.  WHY?  So, the light from outside comes in and you can’t exactly change with comfort in the room?  Odd.  If you are going to take the effort to have curtains they should be fully functional.  Especially in a place like the Hilton.

I slept in until 10:45 and stayed in bed until 11:30, despite the fact that I was putting myself at risk for a migraine.  It was too comfy and I was too bitter.

Now, I am back at the airport.  Where they gave me even more food vouchers and told me my ones from last night are still good.  $50 in food.  I don’t normally eat that much in a whole day.  So, I got a big combo from Burger King (comfort food).  I am now waiting until mid-afternoon to go get some Starbucks.  Supper tonight at one of the airport pubs, I suppose.   Mmmm… Food!  As Patrick said, “the way to your heart is food.”  So, they were smart in the voucher idea.  At least with me.

I also made a friend.  He is one of the many, many people from around home that work out west and was going home for his week off.  He tore onto the plane from Toronto late due to late connections, but made it.  Big guy, strong accent and wearing a Montreal Canadiens hat.  We were instant buddies, like most people from around home are.  Plus, he was a Habs fan… Instant conversation.  We now wave and give each other spouse driven weather updates whenever we bump into one another at the airport today.  Thank goodness for friendly people.

Cruel irony.. It is sunny and beautiful at the Halifax airport.  I am sitting in the observatory listening to the airport birds and enjoying the sun… Yes.. Airport birds.  Crazy thing is that they really have a few birds that are like airport pets in the non-secure area.  Kind of therapeutic.

Airport bird. It just took me 5 tries to get a picture of this little guy. And several dirty looks from another man sitting nearby. So worth it.

The thing that is unfortunate is that living on an island, transportation is limited.  Boat or plane.  Boat isn’t an option in blizzards and the driving/boating time would take me until at least Monday.  Planes get cancelled.  It makes us remember we want to be back on the mainland.  Really, really want to be back on the mainland.  In other places, you can drive before things get too bad, or take a bus (if the bus lines aren’t on strike) or even trains.  How amazing would that be?  Travel options.  Such a luxury.

I will close with some mood music…

Number 9 and the big city

I have been awake since 4am.  Voluntarily.  Well, sort of.  You see, I decided that my $40 night in Kingston is significantly cheaper than what I would pay in Toronto, plus I booked that hotel assuming I would not have an interview there and would proceed from Kingston the next day.  But then I got the interview at 9am.  So, I had to book a flight that would get me to the Princess Margaret Hospital in downtown Toronto by 9.  Thus, 5:45 departure from Kingston.  Thus, 4am (well, 4:03 because my OCD only allows me to wake up at 3 or 7 past something).  Given all of this, I am not feeling too bad.  Probably my anticipation of finally getting to see Patrick tonight.  Other bonus, I got to eat Indian/Pakistani last night… so worth it!

I arrived in Toronto and took a cab to the Princess Margaret Hospital.  It took over 45 minutes.  The traffic was ridiculous.  Like nothing I have ever seen (except that time we got lost in New York city, then accidently went to Jersey).  I marveled at all of the giant glassy condos all through the city.  They are pretty.  I can’t imagine living in one of those for my entire life, though.

The Princess Margaret Hospital is the big cancer and research centre.  It exists on a block that is almost entirely hospital.  I have never seen so much hospital.  Old buildings, new buildings.  I got to see Mount Sinai and the Sick Kids… Places you hear about on TV, as well as PMH.  So cool.  I had time to kill post interview and wandered around marveling at how crazy it all is.  These are places I hear about and think “wow, they are so important” and there I was interviewing to work and train at one of those places.  Pretty epic.

PMH is 18 floors up and 3 underground.  Again… Biggest.  Cancer centre.  Ever.  There are glassed in elevators, skylights and this amazing rooftop garden on the 16thfloor.  Some of the clinics have faux hardwood floors, free snacks and really comfy seats.  I felt like I was in another world.  They have 18 linear accelerators, a PET/CT simulator and an MRI simulator.  They have two gamma knives.  They have a million floors dedicated to research.  They have four floors just for clinics (and a bit of administration).  The call rooms have real beds and TVs in them!  And this is just one of the local cancer centres… There are two.  Sunnybrook is in another part of town and houses even more.  Crazy!  Toronto is actually one of the largest Radiation Oncology centres worldwide and is the largest in North America.  It blows my mind how big a place can be and how much they can have.  I get that a lot of it is related to research, but nonetheless, the money that has been put in and the number of lives they touch is quite amazing.

PMH. One of the several hospitals on the block... And the biggest one I have been in... Ever.

The old entrance to the Princess Margaret Hospital.

The Back of the Princess Margaret and research institute.

Cool statue for breast cancer.

Cool... Hockey and fighting cancer... Two things I like... For very different reasons, of course.

Suit up! No wonder they are so big... They can really sell the fundraising with clever marketing like this.

The interview was fairly standard.  A panel of four for 30 minutes.  I feel like it went really well and there were no questions that I really messed up.  We were collectively a bit nervous about the interview, as they have such a reputation for excellence, that we expected some really difficult questions.  But there were no really difficult knowledge questions as such.

The most unusual question:  What fictional character would make a really good radiation oncologist?  Yes… True story, they asked this.  I am pretty sure I may have given the interviewer a “are you serious look.”  I thought for a few seconds (felt like an hour) and was drawing a blank.  I ended up picking Rory from Gilmore Girls.  I really didn’t have a great reason when I said it because it was just the first non-socially inept character that popped into my head (the first few being from The Big Bang Theory, all of whom I knew were bad ideas).  I somehow determined that my reason for choosing Rory was that she was quite personable, organized and detail oriented.  Phew.

The question that took me most by surprise:  Obviously, the one above did. Nothing else really shocked me.  Everything was fairly standard and I had heard some rendition of before.

I have to say, the residents do seem happy in Toronto.  They were telling us that the focus on shoveling out research projects has declined substantially and was now quite reasonable and that they are more flexible for people to pursue their own interests if they are more inclined to teaching or advocacy, though research is highly recommended.  I can see why, I mean, they have a huge facility and many of the staff are involved in research, so they need help and want to encourage the tradition.  I did notice that they don’t all know who all of the others are.  They made us a video joking about CaRMS and Rad Onc with all kinds of movie analogies… Gamma sword instead of gamma knife and the person thinking it was more of a lightsaber from Star Wars.

We were going to venture into the subway system to get to the airport, but one of the residents kindly drove us to the airport.  In more ridiculous traffic… Even though it was 2 in the afternoon.  All in all, a good day.