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What’s it like to attend medical school in Grenada?

When Katlyn Elliott was in high school, her mother was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a devastating, progressive neuromuscular disease. She passed away when Katlyn was just 18 years old. It was a life-changing experience that ignited in Katlyn a passion for pursuing medicine.

“Going through that process of dealing with doctors, I saw some great doctors and some really bad doctors,” says Katlyn, now a second-year medical student at SGU. “I wanted to become a doctor so that no family would have to go through what we did – with a doctor that didn't treat them well or didn't give them the best that they had.”

Now that she’s in medical school at SGU, she knows that it’s “100 per cent what I want to do with my life.”

An excellent athlete growing up in Peterborough, Ont., Katlyn attended Penn State University on a golf scholarship, earning an undergraduate science degree in biology. She applied to medical schools in Canada, Ireland and SGU.

When she was unsuccessful at getting into Canadian schools, one of her advisors at Penn State told her that SGU was the only Caribbean med school she would send her own daughter to, because of its graduates’ successful employment in North America after.

“I heard stories about people graduating from SGU and becoming full attending physicians in Canada, and that really made me comfortable with my decision,” Katlyn says.

In fact, 91 per cent of eligible Canadian SGU students who applied for a residency position in Canada or the U.S. were successful in 2018. And SGU graduates are often matched in the positions of their choice, including highly competitive residencies like surgery, radiology, orthopedics and emergency medicine.

Now in her fifth term at SGU, Katlyn, a self-proclaimed morning person, starts her day at 5:45am. She packs a lunch and heads to campus to study at Modica Hall, at the same study cubicle every day. Unless she has a morning lab, she attends lectures in Patrick Adams Hall from 1pm to 3pm. After class, she goes to the school’s brand-new gym in the Belford Center.

Katlyn says the gym is just like the one she had a Penn State, with the additional bonus of a breathtaking view.

Katlyn says that she loves how the campus size is small, so that she always sees someone she knows when walking around. “That makes it feel like a community,” she says.

While the workload is demanding, Katlyn says she’s had experiences going to SGU that she wouldn’t have had at another medical school.

“I climbed three waterfalls, I got certified to be a scuba diver, and I climbed the Welcome Rock,” she says, referring to a legendary site overlooking Levera National Park where intrepid climbers can see nine different islands in an expanse of blue water.

“You have to take a break,” Katlyn says of the leisure activities in Grenada. “It’s definitely a marathon, these two years, and that is what de-stresses me.”

SGU also offers a wide range of extracurricular activities for students. Because of its large Canadian population, SGU’s Canadian Student Association (CanSA) is one of the most active groups on campus. Katlyn currently serves as prime minister of CanSA, where students work with SGU’s Canadian consultants and raise money for the Autistic Foundation of Grenada. Katlyn says it’s been rewarding to give back to a community that is so welcoming of SGU students.

“That's something I wouldn't have gotten if I went to school in Canada or the U.S.”

Katlyn is hoping to do her third- and fourth-year clinical rotations in New York or New Jersey to be close to home. Ultimately, she hopes to become a family doctor in the Peterborough area.

She expects to seek the support of SGU’s Office of Career Guidance and Student Development (OCGSD), which helps Canadian students match with hospitals back in Canada. Counsellors advise students on preparing for licensing exams, provide information on provincial eligibility requirements and help them develop their interview skills.

To succeed in medical school, you have to be committed, Katlyn says.

“Persistence, hard work and a positive attitude.”

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As a busy Canadian medical student attending SGU, Katrina Au found a way to share a bit of home with her Canadian classmates.

An avid baker, Katrina found her skills came in handy when heading to meetings of the Canadian Students Association (CanSA).

“Somebody would bring Tim Horton’s coffee, so I would try to make Timbits by hand,” she says.

A native of Toronto, Katrina did her undergraduate degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., in life sciences, and then completed a master of science. Though she had wanted to be a doctor since the age of five, Katrina says obtaining her master’s on the use of immunotherapy in ovarian cancer intensified her interest in medicine.

When she was unsuccessful in her application to Canadian medical schools, Katrina decided to enroll at SGU. She knew that the university had a long track record of placing students in Canadian hospitals and a vast network of alumni across North America.

“Sometimes, if you go to an international school that’s so far away, like Australia, it may be harder to do a residency in Canada,” she says.

Katrina is currently based in New Jersey, mainly the Jersey City Medical Center, while completing her third year of med school at SGU. In third year, students are placed in hospitals throughout North America, completing a set of core rotations such as surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, pediatrics and family medicine. During their fourth year, students continue their clinical training in hospitals but are able to choose their specialty.

Katrina says she’s thrilled to be working with patients.

“I love talking to them and listening to their stories. They come in with a particular complaint of course, but some of them really tell me their life story,” she says. “That’s my favourite part.”

Katrina remembers her first two years on the SGU campus as challenging, but enjoyable. Although medical school can be very competitive, she says, she formed supportive friendships with her classmates.

“That's an important part of making it through [the program],” she says.

One highlight of her time on the island was taking part in an Aikido self-defense club at SGU. They met every Saturday to practice at Modica Hall, which overlooks the ocean and she says is “one of the most beautiful views that you'll ever get.”

With fourth year around the corner, Katrina has already scheduled some rotations in New Jersey and hopes to do a rotation or two in Canada if possible. She’s interested in specializing in oncology, specifically gynecologic oncology, and hopes to ultimately land a residency in the Toronto area so she can be close to her family.

The med school journey is challenging, Katrina says, but she’s glad she made the choice to attend SGU. Eighty-four per cent of applicants to Canadian medical schools are rejected due to program space limitations, and she’s grateful for the opportunity to study medicine at such a highly-regarded international institution.

“SGU gives us a shot to actually practice medicine,” she says.

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Jonathan Phang says his desire to become a doctor stemmed from a combination of loving the sciences and having an intrinsic desire to care for his fellow humans.

“I was always the kid that liked helping others in any capacity, and I think the healthcare field is a great place for that,” he says. “It just made it the perfect fit.”

Jonathan graduated last year from SGU with a medical degree and is currently in his first year of residency at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, which is affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan (U of S).

Born and raised in Vancouver, Jonathan did his undergrad at McGill University in physiology and medical sociology. When he was unsuccessful in his applications to Canadian med schools, Jonathan considered returning to school for another degree. Then SGU caught his eye.

“It seemed like a very reputable medical school that had produced a lot of great grads who have gone on to practice all throughout North America, as well as the world,” he says.

Jonathan says moving to Grenada was a big adjustment at first – the weather, the environment, the food. “But in terms of the overall experience at SGU, it was lovely,” he says. “You really got the personalized kind of learning that you needed.”

He points to SGU’s Department of Educational Services (DES), which offers custom-tailored support to students both individually and in groups. “If you are struggling with something or you're having trouble, resources are always available to help you,” he says.

Like most students at SGU, Jonathan remembers long days of classes and studying, but says he would take time out of his days to go to the gym, read and catch up with family to relax for an hour or two during hectic times. He fondly remembers ball hockey tournaments and Tim Horton’s nights with the CanSA, and says he still keeps in touch with the friends he met at SGU, many of whom are now spread across North America.

“We don't really see each other physically, but we keep in contact because we went through a lot together,” he says. “We really supported and encouraged each other during challenging times.”

Jonathan says he particularly enjoyed doing the clinical training that encompasses the last two years of his four-year medical degree at SGU. In third year, all his core rotations were in the Bronx, New York. In fourth year, when students are able to choose their specialty and schedule their own rotations, he travelled all around the U.S. – New York, New Jersey, California, Nevada, Georgia – as well as Vancouver.

“I drove all the way, no flying in between,” he adds with a laugh.

Jonathan says he wanted to go to many different locations to get exposure to diverse patient populations and systems.

“That was just really eye-opening,” he says. “Because SGU has been established for so long, they have the advantage that they have affiliations with so many hospital centres throughout the U.S., so we have lots of options.”

Now, Jonathan is a psychiatry resident at U of S. He says he was drawn to psychiatry during his third-year rotations. “It really interests me how it’s a delicate balance of the science and the social aspects,” he says.

Jonathan says he would whole-heartedly recommend SGU to other potential med students.

“It really does equip you with the knowledge and the training necessary to practice anywhere in the U.S. and Canada,” he says. “And I feel like I'm living proof of that.”

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Content Studio.
The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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