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Matthew Lowe is just starting his second year of medical school, but he’s been on the path to becoming a physician for a long time.
“I did a [high-school] co-op placement in Dr. Berman’s zebra fish lab at the IWK because I was interested in basic science research,” says Mr. Lowe, “but came out realizing I wanted to interact with patients as well.”
While working on his undergraduate degree in neuroscience, he contemplated careers in clinical psychology, law school, neuroscience research, and teaching – all challenging careers that also involved working with people.
“In the end, after some good advice from my high school physics teacher, I decided to stick with medicine,” he says. He applied and was accepted to Dalhousie Medical School, starting the program in August 2015.
Like most medical students, Mr. Lowe has to balance a wide variety of commitments. His days are packed with classes, tutorials, labs and studying; in the evenings he’s usually to be found playing floor hockey, soccer or Frisbee – and having the occasional Netflix binge. Add weekly volunteer commitments at the Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital and with SwimAbility, swimming with children with developmental delays, and there’s just enough time left over to make the trek out to Lower Sackville for Sunday dinner with his parents, younger brother and grandmother.
The key to success, he says, is to find the balance that’s right for you.
“Sharing experiences and advice with classmates is a crucial part of medical school,” says Mr. Lowe, “but it is equally important to develop as an individual and find a good personal school-life balance.”
“In my case, I felt stressed when I learned that many of my friends spent more time shadowing in the hospital throughout the year, making me feel like I should be doing the same. Over the summer, however, I did a surgery elective in Halifax and an emergency elective in Dartmouth, and feel like I’ve made up for anything I might have missed. This schedule worked better for me, and the stress I felt throughout the year was unnecessary.”
Mr. Lowe joined the Doctors Nova Scotia (DNS) Board of Directors as its student representative in June 2016. He says he’s interested to learn how students and physicians with good ideas can work with DNS to make important changes to their education or practice.
“I’ve always been interested politics and policymaking in Canada,” he says, “so I thought sitting on the Board of Directors would grant me the opportunity to observe and be involved in advocating for policies that impact physicians.”
In addition, he says, he’s interested in gaining a new perspective on how DNS is approaching the matter of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID). “I have been working on a research project regarding undergraduate education on MAID,” he says. “I am curious to see DNS’s work on MAID first-hand.”
Less than a month into his second year of medical school, Mr. Lowe says that his specialty of choice is still changing on a weekly basis, although emergency medicine, general surgery and family medicine all have a certain appeal.
“I’m interested in specialties with a large scope of practice and the option to work outside a tertiary centre,” he says. “I like the idea of practising in one of the larger rural centres not far from Halifax, such as in Bridgewater or Kentville. Those sites offer the chance to have a larger scope of practice and greater autonomy, while working more closely with the community – but they are still close enough to Halifax to drive there on a weeknight.”
During Rural Week, Mr. Lowe worked with Dr. Heather Robertson, a hospitalist at the South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater; an experience that he found inspiring. “Dr. Robertson has by far the best patient communication skills I have seen since the beginning of medical school. She has a great ability to engage with patients from all walks of life and make them feel truly cared for.”
In fact, Mr. Lowe has already seen how important it is to engage with patients on a human level.
“The most rewarding experiences I’ve had so far involved similar conversations with two different patients,” he says. “In both cases, I interviewed the patients on my own for about 30 minutes, during which they described their fear and anxiety, and broke down crying. At the end of these conversations, both patients told me how grateful they were just to have someone listen; one of them gave me a hug.”
“In Med 1 we don’t really have the skills or knowledge to treat patients medically, but to know I could help these patients by listening to their stories was very rewarding.”
Your turn: Did someone inspire you or a family member to attend medical school? Share your story in the comment section below.