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Writing on Stone Press

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From the Medical Post, Nov. 2008

Advice for aspiring doctors

Dr. Anne Berndl wishes she'd had a guide to medical school - from the application process to knowing what to expect once you're in - so she wrote one for others.

by Michael McKinnon

    WHEN IT COMES TO medical school, the application process can seem almost as daunting as the studying and exams. Organizing transcripts and compiling references can be a monumental task, never mind deciding whether medical school is even really for you.

   Luckily, Halifax physician Dr. Anne Berndl aims to walk struggling students-to-be through the process with her book, So You Want to Be a Doctor, Eh?

   "This is the book I wish I had when I applied for medical school," says Dr. Berndl. "I was trying to create a book useful for someone from the initial consideration process - 'Is this something I actually want to do with my life?' - right through to understanding what medical school is really like."

   "That's what I was hoping to create - a comprehensive book to pick up and read to get a really thorough overview of what you're getting yourself into."

Five-part process

   The process is presented in five parts, with the first aimed at helping readers decide if medicine is right for them. The section explains what being a doctor is and isn't about, and presents a series of questions about time management and stress. The second section explains the application process and suggests tips for high school, university and aboriginal students, while the third presents an overview of medical school life.

   "It's not that I think medical students would purchase this book to read during medical school, but if you are applying you should have a good idea of what the process is about and what you'll be going through to have that mental preparedness," Dr. Berndl says

   The fourth section describes the residency program which, Dr. Berndl points out, many applying to medical school don't clearly understand. The final section lists all of Canada's English-speaking medical schools and their admission requirements. Though the book is chock-full of facts, Dr. Berndl says she also lightens the reading with personal insights.

   "I wanted to make it more of a personal book," she says. "Sometimes if I had a moment on call and had an idea - what I thought was a quintessential experience - I'd keep a notebook with me and jot it down on the pad, or write out an outline of what I'd like to write about."

   She anticipates producing further editions to keep up with changing information, she says, noting, for example, that York University is seeking a medical school and Dalhousie University is establishing a branch of its program in New Brunswick. A section about applying for medical school through the military might also be in the works.

   The process itself should be fresh in Dr. Berndl's mind; she received her MD from McMaster University in 2005 and is currently pursuing specialty training as a resident in obstetrics and gynecology through Dalhousie University. In 2006, she was named one of the &Top 30 under 30" in Halifax by the Halifax Daily News.

   The opportunity to write the book came after her publisher-to-be stumbled upon the website she'd been running since her first year of residency, www.doctorstarter.ca. Her site outlines the application process, describes the MCAT exam and suggests areas of development on which doctors-to-be should focus. The idea for that site came after numerous friends-of-a-friend-of-a-friend contacted her for medical school advice.

   "There is information out there, but a lot of it is directed to American students, and the process is quite different for Canadian and American students," says Dr. Berndl.

   Response to the book has been great, she says, noting she's received positive feedback from both students and physicians.

   So, face to face, what advice does she have for those considering the 10-year jump into medical training? Become a people person.

   "If I were speaking to people applying to medical school, the big thing I would let them know is that they should do something where they work with people so they know what they are getting into - regardless of how else they prepare for medical school," says Dr. Berndl.

Michael McKinnon is a Toronto freelance writer.

For more information or to purchase So You Want to Be a Doctor, Eh?" visit www.writingonstone.ca


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