Q&A With A Medical Student Studying Abroad


On TV shows like Scrubs , medicine seems like a funny occupation.

But if you were to watch Grey’s Anatomy or House, you’d know that, along with all the jokes, it can be really difficult work too.

In actuality, medicine is an incredibly challenging field, leaving you to work long hours week after week.

“[Living abroad] makes you more resourceful, encourages you to try new things, lets you appreciate what it really means to ‘come home,’ etc.” —Joanna Mathisen, second year medical student, University of Aberdeen

And if that isn’t enough to dissuade you, gaining admission to medical school is very competitive, and also require long hours of studying and hard work once you’re in the program.

So then why do people want to become doctors in the first place?  Quite simply, they wish to help others and make their lives better.

Joanna Mathisen has wanted to be a doctor for most of her life.  But unlike many Canadians, she decided she wanted to leave the country and attend medical school abroad after completing an English degree with a minor in art history at McMaster University.

Joanna is currently in her second year of studies at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Q.Why did you consider applying to medical school abroad in the first place?
A. Because I wanted to live in Scotland – it was very simple! I want to get more travelling in while I’m young and I lived abroad before (in France), and figured that although being an international student is expensive, it would be worth the expense to live for five more years in a foreign country. With a good excuse!

Q. What made you decide on going to U Aberdeen after getting accepted?
A. It was the only university that had accepted me, primarily!

Also, I have two distant cousins in Aberdeen who took me out for dinner and showed me around the town when I went over for my interview, so I felt comfortable there.

Q.What are some things that med school abroad can give you that you can’t get in Canada?
A. Experience living abroad! It’s something I think everyone should do, if they can. Of course, it’s very much a privilege to be able to live abroad, so that makes it extra special. It makes you more resourceful, encourages you to try new things, lets you appreciate what it really means to ‘come home,’ etc.

Medical school is pretty similar across the board (not like taking a Canadian history degree elsewhere!), so you’re not straying too far away from Canadian standards by going somewhere like Scotland.

Q. How will getting your degree abroad make things better for you in terms of practicing medicine?
A. Well, it gives you more choices in terms of where to practise! I’m trying to decide whether to start working here or Canada, and I have that option.

Coming home will be difficult, but not impossible, and I’ve begun my career in the British system, so I can also work here if I wish to. It’s exciting to have that kind of opportunity!

Q. How will getting your degree abroad make things more challenging for you to obtain a residency after graduation?
A. To be honest, I haven’t looked into coming home in much detail because I’m taking things one day at a time. I’m sure I’ll have to write a few difficult exams, and fewer training positions will be open to me than for Canadian-trained students, but the experience of being abroad outweighs those difficulties.

Q. What is the coolest thing about doing your degree in Scotland?
A. I’ve met some amazing people, gotten to know some Scottish family, and met an amazing  Scottish guy who’s now very important to me! It’s been quite a ride!

Q. What is the single-most important piece of advice you would pass on to others considering applying to med school abroad?
A. I would advise anyone to apply abroad even just to be able to dream about it!

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