Above: Crystal Luchkiw (HBASc'09) and Nathalie Corriveau (HBASc'09) are in second year of the MD program at McMaster University. In this interview they reflect on completing an undergraduate degree at Lakehead University − Orillia.
How did the Arts and Science degree program prepare you for the challenges of studying medicine?
Crystal & Nathalie: The ability to study both arts and sciences has enabled us to take on the various challenges of medical school at McMaster University. McMaster's medical program places emphasis on many aspects of health and wellness other than just the science behind it all. Being able to study social issues and learning to apply concepts to real life issues throughout our undergraduate years equipped us with the skills to appreciate the complexity of both health and illness in a more comprehensive manner.The professors at the Lakehead University − Orillia teach using a holistic approach toward all issues and consistently challenge students to think critically. This was certainly an effective skill for us in our first year in medicine and is one of the strengths that we bring to our tutorial groups.
What did you enjoy most at Lakehead?
Crystal & Nathalie: A few aspects of Lakehead University − Orillia really stand out: The original faculty made the experience completely worth it! Being at a brand new university campus that had essentially no student services, facilities, or student life was difficult. However, if we ever needed anything or had an idea to implement some services for students, we knew we could go to any of the faculty for support and advice. Professors Linda Rodenburg, Tim Kaiser, Alice den Otter, Tom Stiff, and Daphne Bonar were always 120% dedicated to their students and our success. Each of these professors went above and beyond their obligations to the University by helping us (and countless other students) with various academic and personal projects even if we weren't their students at the time. Neither of us can fully express the extent to which each one of these professors has had such a positive influence in our lives.
The small class sizes enabled both of us to learn in close proximity to our professors and to build relationships with each one. They knew us both as students and as individuals. For some students, this might not be considered an advantage, and at times it was frustrating because we couldn't always put forth our greatest effort and the faculty would know it. But ultimately we knew for certain that we were challenged more fully and had to work harder to achieve our personal best because our professors really understood our capabilities and potential. To have the opportunity to work so closely with our professors and peers really forced us to be actively engaged in our studies and to search for our own interests.
Crystal: I remember a Socio-cultural Anthropology class I took in my first year at Lakehead University - Orillia that had just two other students, myself, and Professor Kaiser. We didn't even use a classroom. We booked out a library study room and learned through small group discussion. Interestingly, this pedagogical style parallels the philosophy of McMaster's medical program. As students, we had a great deal of flexibility to study, write, and discuss topics and issues we were interested in learning about. I can imagine that many other university settings would not have the ability to offer this to students.
As a starting campus, Lakehead University − Orillia didn't have the capacity to offer students much in the way of facilities and clubs and organizations. But, this also allowed students to be creative and actively involved in their university community. Many of us took it upon ourselves to find effective ways to offer some amenities that all students, including ourselves, could access.
It was rewarding to be able to be a part of developing new organizations and clubs that helped to enhance the student life at the time and in the future.
Why did you choose to study in Orillia, in the first place?
Crystal: I originally chose to study in Orillia for the Concurrent Education program. I had already finished one year at Laurentian University at Georgian College in Barrie and was considering applying to U of T for teacher's college when I found out about Lakehead University - Orillia from a fellow student, Krista Burgess. We drove up to Orillia together to meet with Kelli Gray, the Student Affairs Coordinator, and made the decision to transfer pretty much on the spot. It wasn't until my last year that I realized that I wanted to pursue a different career path.
Nathalie: I always knew that I wanted to go on to medical school after my undergraduate degree. When I found out that Lakehead University was opening a campus 45 minutes from where I lived, I scheduled a meeting with Kelli Gray to see if Lakehead could offer the courses that could qualify as a pre-med program. After meeting with Kelli and a few professors in the Science department, I felt confident that Lakehead University - Orillia would be able to offer the courses that I required in order to be a competitive applicant for Ontario med schools.
Crystal & Nathalie: We wouldn't say that either of us was ‘fast tracking,' but rather not wanting to stop our academic momentum! We figured if we didn't go to school throughout the summer we would lose motivation. And, as mature students, time was of the essence. We both wanted to push forward with our studies to get onto whatever the future held for us, which funnily enough, ended up being the same career path. Lakehead University - Orillia has a fairly high number of mature students and having the ability to forge through our undergraduate degree at our own pace was certainly attractive and one of the reasons we both chose to study there.
What skills are you using now, which you began to develop at Lakehead?Crystal & Nathalie: While at Lakehead we learned a great deal about ourselves as individuals and as students. Now, we constantly think about our personal biases and how these can potentially influence how we approach patients and the advice we offer them. We appreciate the value and importance of good solid evidence and are confident in our abilities to be critical of research as we go forward in the study of medicine. We are both aware of how we learn best and what strategies we can use to enhance our learning experience in medical school. Since McMaster's program is self-directed, knowing how to identify gaps in our knowledge and when to change our learning strategies have proven invaluable. All of the professors at Lakehead emphasized the importance of thinking critically; this skill will be forever utilized in our medical careers.
Looking back now, we both agree that we had to be extremely resourceful as students in Orillia. Because the campus was new at the time, our library was quite limited during our first and second years so we quickly learned to use online databases. Luckily for students, the library staff was absolutely incredible and helped students, if they were having difficulties, find whatever they needed. In medical school, most of our research is done this way and it's helpful to have had some experience researching academic journals independently. Also, if specific courses weren't being offered at our campus when we needed them (since we were both a year ahead) or were being offered in Thunder Bay but not in Orillia, we found various ways to have the opportunity to take them, either via an online course, through another university, or even travelling to Thunder Bay for the summer session.
What would you say to a student considering attending Lakehead University's Orillia campus?
Crystal: First and foremost, my experience was an incredibly positive one. During my three years at Lakehead University − Orillia, I met one of my closest friends, Nathalie Corriveau, and still keep in touch with many of the professors that I had there. I wouldn't change anything that I have done so far, or the manner in which I did it. But, I do know that things are changing at the Orillia campus; the permanent campus has opened now, and there are more and more students attending, and some of the original faculty have left.Nathalie: I have to echo Crystal's sentiments about Lakehead University − Orillia being an extremely positive experience. My time at Lakehead was a whirlwind, but I managed to gain both a solid foundation of knowledge and create many lasting friendships and memories while I was there.
The university experience is largely what you make it. This can be said of many universities, but it is especially applicable to (the still rather new) Lakehead University - Orillia. My best advice to students is to try to keep an open mind with regard to course selection. The great thing about the combined arts and science degree is that you have the opportunity to take a wide variety of courses that fall outside of your interdisciplinary specialties (which in Crystal's and my case was biology and psychology). Even with the specific courses that I wanted to take towards medical school (i.e. chemistry, biology, mathematics), I was able to find space in my schedule to take courses such as philosophy, nursing, and even music. I believe the alternate courses that I took enhanced my overall knowledge and taught me how to approach problems in various different ways. Other words of advice we would like to pass on is to really think about the experience you want to gain at university and what will be available at Lakehead University − Orillia during your studies.
Crystal: At the time I transferred, I felt it was a worthwhile sacrifice to leave Laurentian where I could play varsity volleyball and access many other amenities to enroll in Lakehead University – Orillia's Concurrent Education program. Now, since I have changed career paths, there is a part of me that wishes I could have experienced the additional challenge of varsity sport. Class sizes will remain smaller than other universities for some time still; so, students should consider whether they are comfortable with their professors knowing them as students. Some people are more comfortable being an anonymous number in a large pool of other students; however, this is not the experience you will get at Lakehead University − Orillia any time soon.
We would also encourage students to consider the benefits and flexibility of studying both arts and science, which is unique to Lakehead University − Orillia programs! We really enjoyed the opportunity to study a diverse set of courses and fully believe this structure has contributed to our overall competency as medical professionals.
What advice would you give someone applying to medical school?Crystal & Nathalie: We both have so much advice to offer to someone applying to medical school that it could be another entire article. But, here are a few key pointers we came up with:
Each school has different entrance prerequisites so be sure of the application requirements. Only a few medical schools in Ontario will even consider students without a very specific set of science credits.
Crystal: McMaster is one, and is the only program I applied to, so for anyone interested in applying there I can offer some specific advice. Nathalie took a more straightforward ‘pre-med' degree: biology, chemistry, mathematics, so that she could meet the requirements of many of the Canadian medical schools. Being in a school that was mostly Concurrent Education students, there was not much interest in courses such as organic chemistry and the like. Often I was the only person enrolled in a course, and admittedly was often nervous that they would not offer the course due to under enrolment. Ultimately, I was able to take the ‘hard core' sciences as the only student in the Orillia class: the solution was to teleconference me into the Thunder Bay campus. The staff (especially Professor Alice den Otter) really bent over backwards to help me achieve the degree that I wanted.
Crystal & Nathalie: Know yourself and what types of experiences you have had in the past that have given you specific skills you can see being useful in health care. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses.
Be actively involved in your community. Volunteer any chance you can!
Really know the reasons why you want to get into medicine. It is a long and torturous road that continues on for the rest of your life. Try to understand what it is that you want to accomplish and the type of physician you would like to be.
Be aware of what you learn out of difficult situations. This process allows you to be self-reflective, which is an important practice in medicine.
We'll stop here, but if there are any students who would like to speak to either of us about the application process or our experiences so far, we would be more than willing to. Just send either of us an email – we'd love to hear from you!