Making the decision to take the long path to becoming a physician can be a difficult one, and for a lot of students it's also a personal one. The truth is that the reasons behind those decision are as varied as the people who make them.
First-year MD students Odell Tan and Trevor Gallagher are no exceptions - their paths to the College of Medicine were vastly different.
A career in science was always in Odell Tan’s future, but it wasn’t until high school that he settled on medicine as a specific goal.
“I had a lot of family in engineering,” Tan explained. “Growing up I always had a strong science background, (and) always considered engineering something to apply the fact that I was good at math. But when I was in high school I went to a ‘what is engineering?’ seminar, (and) I found myself almost bored of it – there wasn’t nearly enough of a personal aspect for me to engage in, which is something I really wanted to do.
“So I kind of explored other fields like pharmacy, but in the end medicine was a very good way to combine a strong science background with a want for personal contact.”
Tan started his undergrad focused on biochemistry, but found himself drawn more towards his psychology classes and graduated from the University of Regina with a Bachelor of Science in psychology, with a minor in biochemistry.
A Regina native, he acknowledges that part of the draw of the College of Medicine over other Canadian medical schools was its proximity to home – but, you know, also not being too close.
“It’s a hop away from Regina, so being able to access family, being able to access those support resources that you sometimes need - not (being) too far away, but far enough to give you space,” he explained with a laugh.
And that family had a big impact on his decision to enter medicine, having seen his grandmother go in-and-out of hospitals as a child, he was privy to the work and impact that healthcare providers can have, not just on the patient, but on their loved ones as well.
“Being able to see - whether it was the nurses, the healthcare team, or the doctors - how they were able to extend her life, and extend the joys she got from life,” Tan said, explaining the influence they had on his decision.
“That additional motivation in the back of my mind – that I was able to know my grandmother because of the healthcare system, because there are advances made every day, and people who are willing to try to give someone like me the opportunity to live a more full life, and know (their family).”
It’s early in his medical career, but Tan admits that there are specialties he’s both leaning towards and away from – but regardless of which path he winds up following, medicine provides him with a lot of options.
“Whether you want (something) routine, or whether you want something that’s challenging - you’re learning something new every day.”
It hasn’t been a quick, or easy, path to the College of Medicine for Trevor Gallagher – it has, in fact, been both a long time coming, and quite circuitous. But the destination has remained solidly the same.
“The CoM has kind of always been my goal,” Gallagher explains. “When I was 16-years old I was a high school drop-out because I had sleeping problems - and I still knew I wanted to do something with my life. So I gradually started shaping up and doing better in school, and started university at the age of 23.
“So I took five high school classes in two months, and I finished those three days before I started university.”
With medicine still in his sights, Gallagher graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with an undergrad in Toxicology, and a minor in Crime, Law, and Justice. His first two years at the university were busier than for most students, not only was Gallagher doing pre-med, but he was helping to care for his two sons – the youngest of whom was born during his first year.
“I was only finishing four classes each term,” Gallagher continued. “So I ended up not being able to apply to medicine with just two years pre-med, so come my third year I declared my toxicology major.”
The extra time spent navigating his undergraduate program wasn’t a deterrent though, in fact it gave Gallagher the opportunity to work in a variety of research positions before joining the CoM.
“I think I was in school for six years for my undergrad, but I did four summers of research – three full time and one part time,” Gallagher explained. “The research experience I’ve gotten was great, and a lot of the skills that I’ve learned in my undergrad are transferable to any kind of setting where you have to work with your hands.”
And while it’s early, he admits that he was leaning towards anesthesiology before he’d even applied to medical school. But with a couple weeks under his belt, Gallagher is less willing to pin down a specific specialty.
“I know I’m going to get exposed to a lot of new stuff, and stuff that I’ve already discovered that I’m kind of interested in in the first two weeks,” he continued. “Like, pathology seems really interesting, especially with my lab experience and the fact that I like being in the lab, pathology would be a good fit for me.
“But at the same time I’m sort of leaving my options open in terms of what I’ll wind up doing.”