On his second day in pediatrics at North York General Hospital, aspiring doctor Thomas McLaughlin had the reality of a career in medicine blow up in his face. Well, more like on his face.
“A two-month-old baby came in with colic, which is a condition where they cry and seem distressed. I took off his diaper to complete a physical exam. He farted, and also got some poop on my face. He definitely got his revenge on me for taking off that diaper,” he laughs.
Now in his third year at the University of Toronto’s medical school, the 24-year-old is planning to be a pediatrician despite babies’ unpredictable bowel movements.
I spoke with Thomas to learn why that sudden attack didn’t scare him away from the pint-sized patients, and what advice he has for new MD candidates.
Originally from Vancouver, Thomas completed an honours Bachelor of Science degree in biophysics at the University of British Columbia. An outstanding student, he earned numerous scholarships and awards including the Millennium Scholarship Provincial Excellence Award.
“I would tell anyone who intends to apply to med school to figure out what you love, and do it well. You need to show that you have potential. I have always liked taking things apart and seeing how they work. I think that’s what science basically is. A classmate of mine studied flowers and how they are represented in art. She has a doctorate in that,” he says.
Thomas accepted his offer from the University of Toronto because it was located in a great city. The structure of the program is similar to the other 16 in Canada, and he insists future physicians don’t have to spend all day studying.
“At U of T, you do two years of pre-clerkship followed by two years of clerkship. During the pre-clerkship, you have lectures. When you are completing the clerkship, you only spend a half a day each week in class. During the last two years, you are at a hospital doing six- to eight-week clinical rotations in areas like surgery, internal medicine and psychiatry. You’re able to examine patients, but can’t prescribe drugs,” he says.
With this schedule, Thomas has not only maintained a social life but is involved on campus. Last year, he was elected president of the Medical Society.
“Usually, I spend an hour or two studying on weeknights and a full day on the weekend,” he says.
Initially, he wanted to pursue internal medicine but enjoyed the pediatrics rotation. “It’s fun to work with kids, but what I really like about this area is that you are able to cure children. They can go on to lead full lives. It’s very rewarding. With adult patients, you often just treat them to make their life better. There isn’t a full recovery. It can be very wearying to have people be sick and not get well.”
However, there is a possibility things could change. Thomas will have to do check-ups on more bare-bottomed babies and complete a few more rotations before he has to decide on a specific area of medicine in fourth year.