Discovery Week in Tillsonburg

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Discovery Week is about hands on learning, leaving the lecture hall to work and learn at a rural or regional hospital.

A one-week placement at the end of first year for undergraduate medical students at University of Western Ontario's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Discovery Week students are placed in communities across southwestern Ontario, including three first-year UWO students at Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital, May 29-June 1.

"I think I'm leaning towards rural family medicine, so I was very excited and very happy with this experience," said Rebecca Shaw, from Vancouver.

Emily Stephenson, from Thornhill, said she's leaning toward internal medicine but like Shaw is keeping her options open.

"It's a hard question... I change my mind a lot. Every time I learn something new or have a different clinical experience I always say, 'I want to do that now,'" said Stephenson. "I think I'm interested in internal medicine, but I'm keeping my mind open and hopefully I'm going to try as many different types of medicine as I can and see which one interests me the most."

"I think a big aspect of that (changing minds) is that we haven't really had as much clinical exposure yet," said Schulich first-year student Herman Bami from Mississauga. "So I think it does change a lot when you get into third year and you're actually rotating through things."

Medicine is such a broad field, he said, that it's just not possible to try everything.

"You have to have an inkling of what you want and cater towards that," said Bami. "Speaking personally, I have an idea that probably it will be either internal medicine or pediatrics, but that could also change too."

Becoming a doctor in Ontario involves four years of Medical School and 2-7 years of Residency, depending on specialty, ranging from family doctor to neurosurgeon. A Fellowship would be on top of that, as are Masters and PhD's.

Eventually the students will pursue careers in major urban environments or rural communities, another decision to make on the road to becoming a doctor.

"I really love Toronto," said Stephenson, "and I think I'd like to do my training in a city, but actually... having this rural experience this week really kind of opened my eyes to a lot of the benefits of being in a smaller centre. I think the doctors have a lot more autonomy and they get to have a wider scope of practice, which is really appealing. So I think... it's something I need to think about."

It was a busy week for the students at TDMH.

"We have done a lot," Shaw nodded.

"We've explored the town a little bit," said Stephenson. "And we've also done a lot of clinical things in the hospital. We shadowed doctors in different departments, we spent a lot of time in the emergency department. We were in the pain clinic, we saw some diagnostic imaging."

They also spent time in the operating room.

"Learning a lot," said Bami. "It was an opportunity to partake in clinical activities. In London, you're in class most of the time and you're preparing for exams, so it's harder to take a dedicated block of time out and actually see patients and learn what the day-to-day is like. So I think this kind of provided us with that exposure, which is good."

"It was nice to get hands on experience," said Stephenson. "We were talking to patients, doing some physical exams. Learning in a classroom is really important, but it's also really valuable to get hands on experience."

After talking to patients - and introducing themselves as medical students - Bami said they would recap for the doctor, who would sometimes ask the same questions to confirm, or do a more detailed physical examination to decided on treatment.

"We're just there as an introduction, if anything."

"I think that every patient that I talked to was very open," said Shaw. "It's a very friendly town and I found everyone seemed happy to answer questions. It's definitely a learning curve, learning which questions you need to ask. So that will come with experience. The doctor would come in afterwards, and you'd be able to hear more questions that are relevant and you'd get some advice. That was really valuable."

"I think a big aspect of it, too, especially in emergency medicine when it's a more acute setting generally," said Bami, "you need to know which questions are pertinent and which aren't, and kind of focus your line of questioning. For us, I'd imagine most of us were asking everything we could so we didn't miss anything. So part of it is fine-tuning that and getting down to what you need to know for the specific patient."

"A lot of the time, the patients were really happy to have us there," said Stephenson. "They wanted us to enjoy Tillsonburg and they wanted us to have a good experience. And they wanted us to be interested in rural medicine, so they were happy to give us that teaching experience."

"I think one of the aspects that we all enjoyed," said Bami, "was talking to people and learning different stories, and just being able to engage with different people. It was fun. From the cutest little six-year-old to the cutest old couple, it was great."

"I think another part of hands on learning, at least for me, I tend to remember a lot of things better when I see them in real life," said Stephenson. "Because you're not just memorizing the pathophysiology of a disease or something like that, but you see a real patient with it and that will stick with me more than a lecture might."

"Emily and I both had our first experiences in the operating rooms, so that was cool - we had never done that before," Shaw noted.

"As observers, no scalpels yet," said Stephenson.

"I liked it more than I thought I would," said Shaw, recalling time in the O.R. "I really loved it. I don't think I'd go so far as to say I will be a surgeon, but I loved it. So it was just cool to get the experience."

"And that's the whole purpose, right?" said Frank Deutsch, TDMH/AHI Integrated VP and CFO, and acting CEO.

"Personally, I don't know if I had many expectations going into the week," said Bami. "I just wasn't sure what to expect, so I didn't really have anything preset. But I think it was just a great learning experience overall."

"I was a bit surprised by the diversity of patients that we got to see," said Stephenson. "Especially when we were in the Emergency Room. I didn't really know what to expect, but we saw people from different backgrounds and all walks of life... I found that really interesting and valuable to see patients, not only with different medical conditions, but who had different life experiences."

"I think it was a good way to get re-excited about medicine after a long year of studying," Shaw summed up. "For me, I think definitely it was a good way to end the year and remind myself that yes, medical school is a long haul but it's what I really want to do."

cabbott@postmedia.com

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