By Cristina Olteanu, HBSc, MD Candidate (Class of 2017)

Cristina obtained her HBSc in Human Biology from the University of Toronto in 2012 and her MD in 2017 at the same school. She is currently a Dermatology resident at the University of Alberta (Class of 2022). She has extensive volunteering experiences abroad in healthcare.

In order to genuinely understand and prepare for a career as a physician, I sought projects abroad that offered firsthand medical experiences. My first experience abroad in the healthcare field was at the age of 17 in India. I always had an interest in science and medicine and was looking for more opportunities to be exposed to medicine while in high school. It was an eye-opening experience to see medicine practiced in another country. I wanted to shadow physicians abroad so that I could make sure that medicine was the most suitable career path for me, regardless of where I choose to work in the future. Not only was this confirmed, but more experiences in Peru, Africa, and Argentina solidified my passion for medicine.

Overall, these experiences helped me realize that excellent communication skills with patients can make a difference. They further refined my knowledge of ethics in medicine and deepened my understanding of cultural issues in patient care. In addition, they helped me grow as a person, learn another language, and make the friends I keep in touch with to this day.

I also learned to consider the impact of our work on the community by asking myself: “Is this sustainable for this community?” While making contributions is significant, it is also essential to ensure that the community has the systems, infrastructure, and ability to be self-sufficient and continue the initiative after you progress to the next initiative.

Many students feel that they need to have experiences abroad to be competitive applicants for medical school. This is not true. Medical schools tend to value volunteering in their communities just as much. There are many opportunities to help those in need in your neighborhood; they might be much closer than you think! Whether it is it in your neighborhood or abroad, it is important to make a positive and lasting impact.

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