I'm in first year Med at MUN. I wrote this document for someone who was just admitted Dal, is waiting to hear back from MUN, and wanted some info on my experience to help her decision if she ends up getting into MUN. Full disclosure, I don't know a whole lot about the Dal program and I'm not trying to say that one is better than the other - just thought you might find this info helpful if you're faced with a decision. If we're lucky, maybe an NB student who chose Dal over MUN can respond to this to get both perspectives.
The curriculum was completely revamped a few years ago, to what is now known as the 'spiral curriculum'. We do two years of 'pre clerkship' or ‘classroom based’ training and then third and fourth year is done in the hospital as clerks. Clerks rotate through different specialties in order to get a good understand of what kind of doctor they want to be. The idea behind the pre-clerkship spiral curriculum is that you will see things multiple times throughout your medical training and increase your understanding of it each time. For example, in Phase 1 (Sept - Dec of first year) we learn about the 'Healthy Person'. We learn about how things are supposed to work - Metabolism, embryology, anatomy, histology, etc. In Phase 2 (January - June of 1st year - where I am now) we learn about acute illness. I'm currently sitting in a lecture about GI bleeding, for example. We recognize the GI anatomy and know the relevant enzymes from Phase 1, but we get a quick refresher and then learn where things go wrong, what the disease is caused by and how to treat it. We also have clinical skills which is a separate course in small groups where we learn how to do a physical exam. This plays into the spiral as well – this week we learned how to do the physical exam on the abdomen to round out all the GI stuff. In phase 3 (second year), we will learn about chronic and genetic illnesses, where we will see the GI stuff all again. I like this model - it's not as though you will see something once and be expected to remember it 2 years later when we are clerks. There also is a strong emphasis on our community engagement course. We learn about Indigenous Health, Trans Health, Global Health and are reminded to ‘check our privilege’ and not to judge our patients. I have learned a lot in that class, even though my passed life was in social sciences. We see standardized patients in small groups starting in our first week of school. These are actors who are hired to be patients with a social issue and you learn how to do a proper patient-centered, empathetic interview. This is an extremely valuable skill that is often overlooked, but to me, it can be the difference between a good doctor and a great doctor.
Day to Day
Our days run from 9-4 with an hour break for lunch. We have Tuesday afternoons off which is great for appointments, shadowing, studying, napping, laundry, groceries, whatever. There is an optional lunchtime talk almost every day where doctors come in to talk about something related to medicine (ex. What is it like to be a psychiatrist? or Family Medicine in Northern Canada etc). The workload has its share of ups and downs. Leading up to an exam, we’re extremely busy with studying but things quiet down once it’s over until the next one. Medical school does need to be a massive part of your life in order to be successful, but you don’t have to give up everything you love to do. I still go to the gym, play intramurals, hit the bar, I’m on a soccer team in town. There are people who play in bands, cross country ski, volunteer, have jobs and children. Balance and wellness is constantly promoted in our program (you’ll see more in the ‘exams’ section) and everyone is encouraged to take breaks, continue doing things that make them happy and avoid burnout. We do not study all the time, I promise!
We have an average of one exam per month. It incorporates all the material we have learned since the last exam (we call them ‘Blocks’). We have 2 questions from every lecture hour on the exam. The exams are entirely multiple choice and done on computers. If you get a 70% or better on your exam, you pass. You can go to the administration and find out your grade, but I never do… grades don’t really matter. Your transcript will just say pass whether you have a 71 or a 99%. This reduces competition within the class. Classmates share their notes on Facebook, along with helpful Youtube videos, mock exams, textbooks, and uplifting comments. Our class is always joking that “We’re All in This Together” and “Ps get MDs”. You don’t need to get 90%+ on everything to be the kind of doctor you want to be. If you fail an exam you have the opportunity to rewrite a new one for that block and people almost always pass the rewrite. Learning the material and staying happy is important, your grades really aren’t.
We start shadowing family doctors in Phase 1. You are assigned 4 different afternoon sessions between October and December with the time built into our schedules. In Phase 2 you sign up for 8 different specialties and you are matched to 4, each one for a month. You can shadow them as much as you want for that month, but you have to contact the doctors yourself and shadow on your own time. They let you do some pretty cool stuff! Our class goes on rural placement (2 weeks of shadowing a family doc) in April and most of the NB students are heading back to shadow in their hometown, although it’s not required.
We are required to complete a research project throughout the degree and we are matched up with a research supervisor based on our interests. We are given time in our schedule to work on research. My feelings on research: it truly is what you make of it. I don’t love it, so for me it’s more of a box I need to check off. Other people in the class are really into it, do more than they have to, and get a lot out of the program. Basically research is there if it’s your thing, and if it’s not you still have to do it but it’s not a central part of the curriculum.
Dal vs. MUN
I am not super familiar with the Dal program and how it all works, but I was accepted to both last year and chose MUN. The academic stuff didn’t play into it too much for me. Med Schools across Canada are so standardized… they are all going to teach you the same things and make sure you are ready when you graduate. The way you are taught and the structures differ, but for the most part I believe that one school is not going to teach you more than any other. Here was my thought process when I was in your shoes.
1) 30 vs. 80
A big factor for me was the 30 person class vs. 80. I have found 80 to be a great number, but this is obviously a personal preference that's different for everyone. These are the people that will keep you sane and become your family over the next few years. I can’t say enough good things about my class. Everyone is incredibly kind, funny, normal and fun to be around. There is always something on the go – a concert people are going to see, a class ski trip, golf weekend, trivia nights, cross country skiing, class hike, etc.
2) St. John’s vs. St. John
Full disclosure, Saint John is not my hometown and my parents live in Ontario. I didn’t go to high school in NB, so I didn’t have the same ‘pull factors’ to Dal that most NB students do. I was up for a new adventure and wanted to explore Newfoundland. The city of St. John’s is exciting, dynamic, full of fun bars and restaurants and to me, it’s a great place to be a student. I also liked the idea of having more people my age around, outside of Med. There are lots of Master’s, PhD, mature students, etc associated with the university. It is nice to be at the main campus and not have video-conferencing or screen learning… although everyone I’ve spoken to at Dal says you get used to it right away and the technology is not a factor at all. The technology seemed really good when I was in SJ for the interview.
There is about a $10,000 / year difference in tuition between Dal and MUN. While money is certainly not everything and most med students will graduate with a pile of student debt, it is nice to try and minimize it as much as possible. Again, not necessarily the most important factor, but definitely something to keep in mind.
I’m sure you saw it at your interview, but the med school is a state of the art, new building. There are lots of study rooms for med students that are accessible through our swipe cards, a library within the med school and lab space to study in. Again, not the most important but good to know that it’s not a con.
That's my essay, hope some of you find it helpful. Feel free to shoot me a message if you have any questions! Best of luck everyone!