How I Got Into Memorial University of Newfoundland School of Medicine
This is the ninth in a series of blog posts that feature students' journeys to medical school. Last time, we heard from Ryan (Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine). Today, Lauren Winsor shares her story and tips with us.
Lauren, tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, on the east coast of Canada. I have two siblings (one human, one canine), and the three of us live together with our parents (both human). For a majority of my undergraduate education, I studied psychology at Memorial University, the main campus of which is located in my hometown. Currently, I am completing the last semester of my degree at Wellesley College – a women’s college which boasts alumnae such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine Albright – through the Killam Fellowships Program.
At Memorial University, I volunteered with several student societies and initiatives. I raised money for health-related charities, planned and participated in volunteer abroad programs, and raised awareness for various health conditions and international health initiatives. Further, a mental health advocacy group that I led for three years planned and hosted charity walks for mental health programs in the St. John’s area, created a scholarship for students living with mental illness, and co-founded a peer support program for students who are struggling to maintain positive mental health. In addition, I tutored fellow students in subjects ranging from English to organic chemistry, arranged information sessions that provided resources to students interested in careers in medicine and optometry, and volunteered at university orientation events each semester.
Since late 2015, I have planned and hosted three conferences on topics including global leadership, and mental health. Further, I was also involved in an initiative that aims to foster positive body image in students at Memorial University. Off campus, I volunteered with children who were in-patients at the local children’s hospital, and I also volunteered as a research assistant at the university’s Department of Genetics. At Wellesley, I volunteer at an elementary school after-school program in a neighbouring community, at the university’s Child Study Center, and with a group that promotes healthy lifestyles on-campus. In my spare time, I enjoy playing music, travelling, practicing martial arts, spending time with family and friends, and playing with my dog, Mugs.
What first attracted you to medicine?
I have always been interested in medicine. When I was a toddler, my parents gave me a play doctor's’ kit – complete with toy needles, casts, and a stethoscope. During my two-year-old checkup with my family doctor, I stunned her when I pointed at the instrument around her neck and confidently said “that’s a stethoscope”! My dad still thinks the look on her face was priceless. Little did she know that I was already planning my future career! I spent a lot of time pretending to be a doctor, and I could often be found in my pillow-fort clinic treating a diverse array of teddy bear diseases.
When I was four years old, I went from playing doctor to becoming a life-long patient when I was diagnosed with Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 2A, which causes tumors in several endocrine glands, including a rare form of thyroid cancer. At six years old, I underwent a thyroidectomy in order to prevent the development of thyroid cancer. It was then that I decided that I wanted to become a physician. During the period that I spent in hospital recovering from surgery, I was showered with incredible kindness from health care professionals; one nurse – who eventually went on to become a doctor – went so far as to braid my hair every time that she was working because she knew that it made me feel better. I loved and admired my doctors; I was amazed by their ability to heal, and by their calm, compassionate demeanor. My doctors have helped me recover from many illnesses over the years, both physical and mental, and I want nothing more from my life than to be able to do the same.
When and why did you apply to MUN?
I applied to Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Faculty of Medicine during the summer of 2017, following the completion of my third year of undergraduate studies. This was the first year that I was eligible to apply, and I have always known that I wanted to be a physician, so it was an easy decision to apply as soon as I was eligible for consideration.
I applied to Memorial for a number of reasons. First of all, I grew up in Mount Pearl, which is a community located directly next to St. John’s, where Memorial’s main campus and Faculty of Medicine are located. I also attended Memorial for a majority of my undergraduate studies, and I have always been impressed by the teaching quality at the university. Further, the Faculty of Medicine has a strong national ranking and is known for producing excellent physicians. Finally, Memorial has extensive opportunities for medical students to serve the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador, and to help make the province a healthier place. Newfoundland is my home, and I wanted to have the opportunity to help the community that raised me during my medical education.
Share three factors you think contributed to your acceptance.
There is always an enormous amount of speculation surrounding how Memorial chooses its medical students. It is important to note that Memorial uses a “holistic approach” in selecting its medical students, meaning that the admissions committee looks at each individual applicant as a whole person rather than just numbers on paper. The committee also takes personal circumstances (e.g., lack of volunteer opportunities in applicants’ hometowns, or personal illness) into account when making their decisions. In this way, people who have been disadvantaged by circumstances beyond their control are still given a fair chance at achieving their dreams. Personally, I believe that there are three main reasons why I got accepted.
“I have been very involved with my local community since beginning high school, and I believe that the very high number of volunteer hours that I have accumulated over the years helped demonstrate my diverse interests and dedication to everything that I do.”
First of all, my application had unique features that helped me stand out from the crowd. I have been very involved with my local community since beginning high school, and I believe that the very high number of volunteer hours that I have accumulated over the years helped demonstrate my diverse interests and dedication to everything that I do. I have also had international volunteer and work experiences that hold personal significance in my life – for example, I did a research internship at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (i.e., the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland) throughout the summer of 2017. During this time, I worked to help develop neuroprosthetics that will restore functional vision in individuals who have lost their sight following acute optic nerve damage and retinal cell death. During my interview I was able to speak about this experience – along with many others – that reflect my personality and demonstrate my tendency to transform negative events into something productive. (For context, I chose this because I have congenital retinal damage which significantly weakens my eyesight.) Working on this project gave me the opportunity to participate in a technological advancement that may one day improve my own vision, and to prove to myself and everyone around me that you do not need perfect eyesight to do complex research or to become a doctor.
Further, my interview was strong and sincere. I practiced SO MUCH for my interview I almost cannot believe it myself. A number of the interview candidates arranged for us to meet and practice three times a week in groups of students that we did not know well. This helped prepare us for all of the feelings and apprehension that go along with talking about yourself in front of strangers. The university also offers mock traditional interviews through the Office of Student Life which provide students with an opportunity to practice traditional interviews while offering feedback on how to improve performance (e.g., how to structure your responses, how to maintain enough eye contact). I did one of these mock interviews and found that it was very helpful. In addition, I and my best friend, Jevon – who is an enormously talented chemist and individual – practiced interviews together and provided some of the most honest feedback that any human will ever receive. My mom also helped me practice traditional interview skills, but I could not subject her to too much practice, because she would get emotional when I was giving my responses! In addition to practicing extensively for the interview, I also used many examples from my family and personal life during my interview to highlight why I hold specific opinions or support certain positions. I believed this made me more relatable to the interviewers and demonstrated that I am more than just words and numbers on a few sheets of paper. Doctors are people after all, and it helps when interviewers are able to see that you have a world outside of academics and extracurricular activities.
“My parents would never allow me to quit an activity that I had joined – a rule that has developed into a stubborn determination and drive that informs my overall attitude toward my professional and personal life.”
Finally, I have had a lot of support from family, friends, and colleagues who have helped me achieve my goals. My parents always pushed me to be the best version of myself. I am a musician, I hold a black belt in karate, I am a strong swimmer, and I am proficient in the French language because my parents would never allow me to quit an activity that I had joined – a rule that has developed into a stubborn determination and drive that informs my overall attitude toward my professional and personal life. In addition, my family, friends, professors, and colleagues have always encouraged me to reach for the stars, to take risks that have shaped me into the person that I am today, have stood by me when I have struggled, and celebrated with me when I have achieved successes. I have always received a lot of support from the people in my life, and without them, this journey would have been much more difficult.
How did you feel after the interview?
I felt really good immediately after my interview ended. During the four-month wait between it and the release of admissions decisions, I started to question if my performance was as strong as I had initially thought and wondered why I had said certain things and if I could have worded my statements better. However, memories tend to fade over time and I usually pushed away those negative thoughts, as there was nothing I could do then to change my interview performance. Overall, my initial intuition that I had a strong interview was correct, and the self-doubt that I experienced was unnecessary.
The Memorial University Faculty of Medicine interview process is quite a bit different than other medical schools. Candidates rotate through 8 MMI stations and a 30-minute traditional interview in which they speak to a two-person panel about themselves and why they are qualified candidates. Additionally, there is a situational judgement test that assesses interview candidates’ problem-solving and ethical reasoning skills. Along with these three components, there is an introduction at the beginning of the interview day, a screening of a video made by the first-year medical student (always hilarious), and a break for snacks halfway through the day.
The interview process was a good experience and while I was nervous at first, I found that after speaking with the interviewers for a while, I calmed down and felt much more confident in my responses. I prepared extensively for my interview, and because of that, I stayed calm and level-headed during the process, and properly articulated why I believe that I will be a good doctor in the future.
Walk us through the moment you got accepted.
Admissions decision letters for Newfoundland and Labrador applicants were released by email and regular mail on Tuesday March 6, 2018. I am currently studying at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, so I felt a bit separated from the entire event! The admissions committee began sending individual decision letters at about 8:00 am Eastern Time, and shortly after, my friend Mark messaged me to say that he got accepted (go Mark!). Knowing that the decision letters were actually being sent out was pretty terrifying, but Tuesday is one of my busiest school days, so I had to get ready to go to class. I was about to leave my dorm room when I decided to refresh my email one more time. An email from the admissions committee was waiting for me in my inbox. The first thing that I noticed when I opened the decision letter were the words “Dear Miss Winsor, Congratulations!” written across the top of the page. After I stopped crying (tears of joy/relief of course), I tried to call my dad to tell him the news, but my phone’s reception was poor that day, so he could not understand what I was saying! Instead, I texted my parents, sibling, and grandmother to tell them that “Miss Winsor” will soon become “Dr. Winsor.” Everyone was very excited, and my mom - who is a grade five teacher - had a little celebration with her students. The class insisted on sending me a video of their congratulations, which I found incredibly sweet! To top it off, after all of this excitement, I still managed to get to class on time.
“There is no “right way” to get accepted into medical school. There is also no “right time.” I applied one time and was accepted, but a lot of my future classmates were accepted after multiple attempts.”
How can others imitate your success? If you can, share a few words of encouragement with our students.
There is no “right way” to get accepted into medical school. There is also no “right time” to get accepted. I applied one time and was accepted, but a lot of my future classmates were accepted after multiple attempts. At the end of the day, we are all going to be doctors. The number of tries will not matter then.
Further, when you are choosing your major and extracurricular activities, when you are writing your applications, and when you are conducting your interviews, stay true to yourself. I am sure that you have heard this before, but it is true – admissions committees want to see who you are as a person, not who you think you should be, and by staying true to yourself and your goals/interests, you will enjoy your pre-med experience to the fullest.
Lauren grew up in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, which is the most easterly city in Canada, and studied psychology at Memorial University. Currently based out of Wellesley, Massachusetts, she is completing the final semester of her Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree at Wellesley College through Fulbright Canada’s Killam Fellowships Program. In her spare time, Lauren enjoys volunteering, playing music, and spending time with her friends, family, and wonderful dog. Lauren will begin her medical career in August 2018 as a member of Memorial University Faculty of Medicine’s Class of 2022.
Check out more of our stories and resources for pre-meds below: