Life Talk: New Goals

I’ve successfully finished my second year of university and begun a full-time internship in a medical school lab. We’re studying the role of PNMT (an enzyme) in hypertension,¬†and I am honestly having the time of my life.

For a while now, I’ve been thinking that I may want a career in a research area, and so far this experience is reinforcing that. It is beyond cool to be applying everything I learned in my biochem course last semester (Seriously, where was this when I needed to consolidate the procedure for SDS-PAGE and Western Blotting? I literally do that all day now!), and I will likely be getting a project to work on this summer and the next that I can use to write up my undergraduate thesis. For now, I’m working on finishing up some work for a couple of graduate theses to be published, which means I might just end up with my name on a publication. I am so stoked! ūüėÄ

So, where am I at? Well, I’m clearly not in Africa right now ( ūüėČ ); that’s been moved to the first semester of my fourth year, when I will (hopefully) be spending ten or so weeks there completing a medical/physio internship in a hospital and the remainder of the semester finishing up my honours thesis. I am currently still working towards¬†a degree in Kinesiology and a concurrent major in Biochemistry. This won’t be changing any time soon – I absolutely love everything I am studying.¬†

In terms of this summer, my (meticulously planned) hours are occupied with my internship, my part-time job, socializing (can’t neglect the friends and boyfriend!), a course in nutrition, and MCAT studying.

Yup, I’m working towards my MCAT – I’ve been carefully considering graduate programs and have realized that an MD/PhD program is pretty much perfect for me. These programs are 7 to 9 years long on average (in Canada at least, and this time frame looks to be relatively similar in the States), and combine both a PhD and an MD degree into one specialized program.

Why do an MD/PhD? Well, I already know that research is what I want to make a career out of. Lifestyle and health have been my passion for many years now, leading me to major in Kinesiology, and it’s been so fun to delve into the biochemical aspects of the human body. The more I learn, the more I want to know – I want to fully understand the¬†processes that govern our lives, and use this understanding to tweak my lifestyle choices in such a way that optimizes my¬†quality of life. I want to inspire other people to do the same, to motivate them to make choices that can support them in the everyday, building a strong foundation to lead lives. In order to achieve this, I want to contribute to our overall understanding of human physiology – and research is the best way I can think of contributing to make a difference.

The particular area I’m interested in – reproductive endocrinology – offers many areas of research interest. Fertility problems are common nowadays – I myself am working towards recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea – and the more I look into the complex interactions of our endocrine systems, our environnements, and our lifestyles, the more I feel that this is an area I can really help people in.¬†Hormones are absolutely fascinating to me, and I believe that their actions are all linked to some extent. If we can understand the mechanisms underlying¬†their actions (and there are many areas in which studies need to be done here), we can learn how to manage our environments in oder to take control of our health as a whole.

Completing an MD/PhD would give me the opportunity to both help others in a clinical practice and also allow me to conduct studies with human participants (as opposed to animals). I’ve been thinking long and hard about this, and talked to countless people. I’ve been told that doing an MD alone offers plenty of opportunities for research, and I agree entirely – however, I truly value the amount of laboratory training that goes into obtaining a PhD degree and feel that it can only be beneficial for my development as a clinician-scientist (in both techniques and expertise in my area of study).

I am electrified just thinking about this. It’s a very long road paved with challenges – the MD/PhD program is approximately eight years, followed by two years of residency in gynaecology and a two year fellowship in reproductive endocrinology. If you’re keeping track, that means I’ll be in school (and earning minimal pay) until I am 34 or 35 years old, assuming that I get into a program on the first try. The uncertainty is scary – but I know that this is what I want to do.

My (unofficial plan) looks something like this:

– Complete lab internship and begin working on thesis project
– Write MCAT and achieve a 40+ score (have to aim high!)
– Boost average by 1.6% in order to achieve a 3.9 GPA (based on OMSAS guidelines)
– Get a volunteer job in a health area after MCAT is completed
– Continue with laboratory work
– Apply to PhD/MD programs in Ontario and BC
– Graduate with a B.Sc. (Hons) in kinesiology with a major in biochemistry
РComplete PhD in human physiology and residency in gynaecology 
– Do a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology
– Get a job in a research hospital and set up a practice and/or work in a fertility clinic

Well, this definitely got wordy quickly! I’ll post something soon on my MCAT study plan, just in case it helps someone out (hint: it doesn’t involve studying for 8+ hours at a time). God knows I can’t focus for that long!