Medical school grads reflect on their time at U of T – and share tips for future students

Left to right: Happy Inibhunu, Justin Lim, Alainna Jamal, Siraj Zahr and Jordi Klein (all photos by Julia Soudat)

Before trading their white coats for black gowns and receiving their degrees at Convocation Hall, several members of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine's Class of 2022 recently looked back on their time in med school and shared advice for future students. 

Five of those students – MD graduates Happy Inibhunu, Justin Lim and Jordi Klein, as well as MD/PhD grads Alainna Jamal and Siraj Zahr – describe the rollercoaster of emotions they felt during their education at the University of Toronto, from delivering their first baby to losing their first patient.

Here is a snapshot of their reflections:

Happy Inibhunu

Graduating from: MD Program
Up next: Residency in neurosurgery, Western University

Time goes by really fast, as sometimes I often rewind back to orientation and am amazed of the incredible friends I have made these last four years. Some highlights of my medical school journey are my first-ever triathlon, receiving an honorable mention by the Canadian Society of Palliative Care for my written piece, "10:30,” providing care to patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic through virtual and in-person means, and, undoubtedly, achieving my dream of becoming a neurosurgery resident.

These last four years in Toronto helped define the physician I aspire to be by building interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary networks in a harmonious manner, creating positive, empathetic and trustworthy rapport with patients, and having the extraordinary opportunity of striving diligently to provide care to neurosurgical patients as a life-long vocation.

Being part of the Class of 2022, which did more than half of medical school during the pandemic, and navigating clerkship within the pandemic was certainly a hard obstacle to overcome. Striving to build rapport and guidance with patients through the distance created with the application of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while balancing the uncertainty of the pandemic placed another layer of complexity to our learning. However, a defining characteristic that resonated through the pandemic is the ability to recognize, acknowledge and strengthen virtues of humanity. For instance, sharing a laugh, providing extra time within visits, supporting one another and always remembering the person is separate from the disease. With this mindset, more unique aspects of clerkship and the pandemic shone through while building a harmonious community throughout my rotations among physicians, residents, allied health-care professionals, patients and caregivers.

I have been aspiring to this moment for a long time. To be one of the incoming PGY1 neurosurgery residents at Western University is a humbling honour. I am excited to continue on this path towards providing optimal care for patients, similar to my mentors, paving the way for me to soon become a well-rounded, skillfully trained neurosurgeon.

Advice for incoming students: It is often common to feel out-of-place in new situations, especially in medical school. You might hear of the phrase "imposter syndrome" in your first few weeks of orientation and throughout your career. Try not to be intimated by this phrase. Instead use it as a template to branch from. To get to where you are, it takes sacrifice, passion and excitement to dedicate your life to the betterment of others. 

Justin Lim

Graduating from: MD Program
Up next: Residency in ObGyn, University of Toronto

I don't think I truly knew what I was getting myself into when I decided I wanted to become a physician. I just knew I wanted to contribute to my community in a meaningful way. Through the growing pains of medical school, I learned that there is something incredibly special about how our profession affords us the opportunity to be with people at some of their most vulnerable moments. The highs are high and the lows are low, but ultimately caring for others is central to what continues to draw me in to this profession.

Without a doubt, the most remarkable highlight of medical school has been watching my friends and classmates grow as people, as a community and as future physicians – and growing alongside them. It was so wonderful watching everyone comfortably settle into their future specialties this last stretch of medical school, and be truly excited about going into our respective clinical spaces. 

Medical school has been filled with many “firsts,” which is what makes these four years so fulfilling and exciting, but so darn challenging at the same time. Navigating these firsts kept me on my toes as I quickly learned that we all have things we’re good at (and things we're not so good at). It's funny remembering how nervous I was to take my first patient history. Now, that list of new experiences has grown exponentially – all the way from delivering my first baby to experiencing my first patient death. Learning how to sit with these experiences will be something I will be working on for years to come.

I am extremely excited – and nervous – for the many upcoming milestones that come along with an ObGyn residency, and am really looking forward learning how to do things with my hands. I remember learning how to throw my first knot a few years ago, and it still hasn't hit me that soon enough I'll be learning how to operate.  

Advice for incoming students: you will constantly feel like you don’t have enough hours in a day. I remember feeling like I just did not ever have enough time. But I promise you that you do have time, and you will finish medical school excellent and competent.

The truth is, your to-do list will never end and the demands of medical school will feel overwhelming at times, but give yourself permission to do the things you need to do for you.  

Jordi Klein

Graduating from: MD Program
Up next: Residency in emergency medicine, University of Toronto

I became interested in medicine because of my own experiences as a patient, which led to an academic interest in co-design for health-care systems and institutions. I’ve had some opportunities to use a co-design approach in creating lectures and resources for the MD program, and am excited to continue this work in residency. My experiences as a patient also cemented the importance of medicine as advocacy, and I’m motivated to continue my advocacy work supporting the health-care needs of marginalized and under-represented communities.

It’s true what they say: the days are long but the years are short. Med school was a collection of so many highlights. From de-stressing in the med lounge after an anatomy bellringer to delivering a baby for the first time, it’s amazing how much you grow in such a short amount of time. Among my greatest highlights were getting to know so many bright, hardworking, passionate future colleagues, who inspire me to be a better doctor and a better person.

I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome in medical school. I felt like I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor, that I didn’t belong here. It got worse in clerkship, as I would agonize over every little mistake, fearing it was evidence that all my worst fears were true and I actually wasn’t good enough after all. Over the course of clerkship, my mentors helped me feel more grounded and learn to adopt a growth mindset. The imposter syndrome is still a work-in-progress but it’s become easier to see mistakes as opportunities to grow. Learn by failing!

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have so many supportive mentors and colleagues throughout my training, and I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to pay it forward by teaching, supporting and mentoring other learners here at U of T. My training would not have been the same without the residents who taught me procedures, got me coffee on night shifts, cried with me after patient deaths, coached me through tough days and so much more. I hope to be that resident for future medical students.

Advice for incoming students: Each of you has something special to bring to this work. Don’t be afraid to bring your full self into medical training. Let your strengths be your strengths, and find the people and places that help you feel like the best, most authentic version of yourself. 

Alainna Jamal

Graduating from: MD/PhD Program
Up next: Residency in internal medicine, University of Toronto

I started my first research project as a bachelor of science student in 2010 under the skillful mentorship of Dr. S. Joseph Kim (an associate professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health) and Dr. Shahid Husain (a clinician investigator in the department of medicine in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine) in the multi-organ transplant program at Toronto General Hospital. They were the first to show me the physician-scientist career path, and I was fascinated. I saw research and clinical medicine as inextricably linked. I wanted to treat individual patients, while leading a research program that improves patient care and health-care systems. I am most interested in infectious diseases and epidemiology, particularly antibiotic resistance. 

My research focuses on understanding transmission of antibiotic resistant bacteria in hospitals and communities, using epidemiological and genomic methods. These data allow us to make policy recommendations for infection prevention and control programs in Ontario. 

The greatest highlight of my experience in the MD/PhD program was the opportunity to be rigorously research-trained by my PhD supervisor, Dr. Allison McGeer [a professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Dalla Lana School of Public Health and clinician scientist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Sinai Health) as our team worked on new and evolving public health challenges (antibiotic resistance, and toward the end of my PhD, COVID-19). She is an authority in her field who also takes mentorship seriously. She gave me independence, while always offering constructive criticism and generous support. 

I'm looking forward to honing my clinical skills and gaining independence as a physician, serving as a teacher and mentor to my junior peers, and answering the next question on my research agenda. 

Advice for incoming students: Open doors for junior peers. Approach everything with a diversity, equity and inclusivity mindset.

Siraj Zahr

Graduating from: MD/PhD Program
Up next: Residency in anesthesiology, University of Toronto

Looking ahead, anesthesiology offers many avenues for scientific investigation as it encompasses the entire spectrum of medicine and surgery. I’m interested in mechanisms of action of certain anesthetics on brain activity, as well as chronic pain mechanisms and treatment. The interplay between what we categorize as psychiatric/mental versus physical in chronic pain disorders – and therapeutic modalities that target both – is a particularly exciting area to me.

My main doctoral research under the supervision of Dr. Freda Miller [in the department of physiology] and Dr. David Kaplan [in the department of molecular genetics] revolved around how neurons are generated from neural stem cells to build the mammalian cortex. The cortex underlies our perception of sensory information, performance of motor activities and higher-order cognition, so you can imagine that aberrations in this process can lead to a whole host of disorders.

Honestly, my biggest highlight [of med school] would have to be meeting my wife, Tina Marvasti, who I couples matched with. Other highlights are the friendships I’ve made and inspiring mentors I have met who have made me feel at home in Toronto.

I have faced many challenges, both academically and personally. Not to bore you with the details, but some useful things I have learned are that challenges are inevitable and necessary for growth, and that it is OK to lean on others for advice and guidance when you’re stuck. 

As I embark on the next phase of training, I look forward to developing focused clinical expertise and independence in managing patients of varying complexity and acuity. I’m also looking forward to learning from the fantastic clinical and scientific mentors in anesthesiology.

There is a proverb of unclear origin that goes: "The person who asks is a fool for five minutes, but the person who does not ask remains a fool forever.”  In medicine and science, you are faced with many unknowns or unfamiliar territory that naturally evoke fear. I’ve noticed that there is sometimes a hidden pressure that even the most junior and inexperienced trainees need to always appear more certain and knowledgeable than is the case. So, in addition to the natural fears one has, there is an added pressure to behave with false certainty despite lack of experience. I think this really stunts learning and understanding, and is ultimately bad for patient care.

Advice for incoming students: Be humble, stay curious, maintain a growth mindset, and ask genuine questions if you don’t understand something. Essentially, be willing to be a fool for a bit.

Read more at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine


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