Why I will not be applying to medical school, with Sophiya Garasia

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Show Notes

At some point in time we have all been in a position where we ponder on what our next step is going to be in our career journey. Sophiya Garasia faced a similar inflection point where she was trying to identify her next step after her degree in public health.

In her search through self reflection, she discovered that medical school was not for her.  She shared this introspection via the post “Why I will not be applying for medical school” that she wrote for the PH SPOT blog a few years ago. We wanted to bring her on the podcast to dig more into this reflection she had and the framework she used to make her decision, so that we can use the same framework when we come to a similar point in our journey where we need to decide our next step.

You’ll Learn

  • About Sophiya’s journey and her decision to not go to med school
  • How introspection after each experience is key in helping you build your career
  • Why changing your career plan is okay
  • Advice for those who think they may like medicine (how they should go about this)  
  • Importance of finding a mentor to discuss the different options in your career
  • What to keep an eye out for when looking for experiences (i.e. do meaningful volunteer to understand what you like and dislike)
  • How to get public health volunteer experiences
  • The popularity of public health and how that’s changing

Today’s Guest

Sophiya Garasia

Sophiya is a PhD candidate in the Health Policy program at McMaster University, specializing in Health Economics. Prior to commencing her PhD studies, Sophiya obtained her Master’s of Public Health degree and Honours Bachelor of Science degree and worked professionally in public health at both a national and international level. Sophiya is interested in areas of health equity and data analytics. Her thesis focuses on the health and health care use of immigrants in Canada. Outside of her work, Sophiya enjoys Zumba, experiencing different cultures through travel and food, and spending time with her loved ones. To learn more about her work and experiences, you can find her through Twitter (@sophiyagarasia) or her personal blog. Sophiya also has a new podcast series called The Health Briefs in which she and her team discuss current relevant health issues.


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Episode Transcript

Sophiya 0:00
It’s scary to do. I get it- and changing career plans, you- I feel like the biggest worry is you’re wasting time. And we all know that we don’t have much of it. So I think that’s scary. And then there’s like expectations that you have of yourself and others have a view. And when you’re changing your field, you’re- you feel like you’re letting people down.

Sujani 0:27
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host, Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Hey, what’s up, everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight, a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. For those of you who have been following PH SPOT for some time now, does the title “Why I will not be applying to medical school” sound familiar at all? It was a blog post that was published on PH SPOT’s blog very early on in 2017. And it’s a post that has been the most read on our blog. And so this post was written by an individual, by the name of Sophiya Garasia. Sophiya is currently a PhD candidate in the Health Policy Program at McMaster University, and she’s looking at health and healthcare use of immigrants in Canada. And prior to commencing her PhD, Sophiya got a BSC and then a master public health degree and went on to work in public health, both internationally and nationally. And if I remember correctly, when Sophiya had published this post on her personal blog earlier that year in 2017, she had just completed her master’s of public health degree, and was thinking about the next step that she should be taking. So when I read this piece on our blog, I knew that I needed to share it with our audience on PH SPOT. And as it continued to be one of the most read blog posts on PH SPOT platform, I was not surprised at all because I think this is a reflection that many people in public health have gone through or will go through. And so thinking about the topics for this podcast, I put Sophiya as one of the top individuals I wanted to talk to. And I wanted to bring her on because I wanted to hear firsthand from her about this reflection and why she ended up writing this piece. And that’s exactly what we do on this episode and more. Because through that conversation, we talk about the popularity of public health, that more people now know about our field, and that it’s okay to change your career plans. And then we also shift into a conversation about building public health experience and how we can go about doing that. And of course, I needed to ask her if the idea of going to medical school has ever left her mind. So I really enjoyed chatting with Sophiya, and you’ll hear that in this episode. She’s just an- such an introspective person who’s constantly reflecting on her experiences. And so it’s no surprise that she continues to write on her blog, which we’ll include a link to in the show notes page. And then I think I might also be bringing her on board again to talk a bit about a podcast series that she’s hosting. And it’s called the “Health Briefs”, in which she and her team discussed current and relevant health issues. But that’ll be for another episode. So without further ado, here’s Sophiya.

Sophiya 3:41
Yeah, I wrote this a couple of years ago, when I just started writing as well. So I have my own blog. And at that time, I was thinking about what should I write about that would really- what people would resonate with. And this topic came to my head. And this is because at that time, I had just finished or was nearing, I don’t remember, my public health- So I just finished my public health degree at the University of Guelph. And I was thinking about what to do next. So I was in the process of really thinking about my career, what all the stuff that I’ve done up to that point and what I want to do in the future, and during my public health degree, a lot of people would tell me whether I want to go into med school, and if that was the next step, and a lot of people would ask me that. And a lot of them already assumed that that was what I was going to do without even asking me. So that sort of prompted this conversation. This, this, this idea in my head that I should write about why I didn’t want to go went to med school. And that decision came to me after a lot of reflection. And even writing the post, I was thinking about why I chose to go into public health and research. And why not med school. So it was mainly people telling me about, like, it was me that- I wrote the post as to self assess, what I want to do. And also, because a lot of people- at that time I was Googling, like, shit, like about med school. And I would find that a lot of people don’t really talk about the decision not to go to med schools moreso their decisions to go to med school. So I want to write this blog post. Also, I think it would help others too, who may be in the same spot as me.

Sujani 5:51
I think you shared in that post that people often asked you like, “Are you in public health only? Because you didn’t get into medical school? And is this your gateway to medicine?” How did you kind of deal with those kinds of questions when you were still in the process of assessing yourself? Like was that difficult for you to respond to them?

Sophiya 6:10
Um, it wasn’t difficult. It may have been difficult if I wanted to go into med school and I wasn’t getting in. That would have been another conversation. Because then maybe I would have been more sensitive to- to that question, but I knew that I didn’t want to go into medicine. So I was okay and responding back. But yeah, a lot of people would ask me- would tell me that, “Oh, you’re only in public health, because you want to go into med school.” And, and a lot of people do, a lot of people are in public health because of that. It’s a one year two year program, and it helps them, I think, build experience. And they learn more about what they wanted to- want to do. And I think public- a lot of times public health and medicine go hand in hand. I think it’s good for a lot of people in medicine to do public health. But yeah, when people would ask me that, it’s not that I couldn’t respond but would get me a little frustrated, or that people would think that people are only doing public health because they want to go into medicine. And public health is really, I feel like public health professionals fight real hard to be known. And public health, a lot of times it’s in the background, and they do very important work. So I think it sort of the cons are undervalues public health in a way. So that was a little frustrating.

Sujani 7:32
Yeah, I think maybe also because the- the degree, the public health degree is so new in Canada. So I think the- the popularity of that degree is also- was also low, probably when you were sort of thinking about going into public health. Do you think that has changed now that more and more schools are offering public health degrees? Do you think that awareness about such a degree in the work that public health professionals do is sort of changing?

Sophiya 8:00
Yeah, definitely. Since I began, I think that public health is becoming more widespread. But public health existed for years. Way before I started, way before I knew about it, but I was not so- ITA now, ITA in the public of- in the public health program at McMaster. And so when I talk to students about public health and how they got into it, I realized that a lot of them really know what public health is, which is great. When I started public health, and when I was an undergrad, I didn’t know much about it.

Sujani 8:40

Sophiya 8:41
I think that we are further than we were when I started.

Sujani 8:46
Yeah, I think I remember when I was doing my undergrad. It’s probably 2007 to 2011. I think there wasn’t even sort of a degree at the University of Toronto. I was at the Scarborough campus. So there was- there were sort of some courses you could take. But I think as I graduated 2011, then they kind of started offering an entire major in public health. So definitely, I think that’s helping with the conversation.

Sophiya 9:12
Yeah, definitely. Mcmaster’s also started three years ago. So there’s a lot of new programs in public health.

Sujani 9:22
You talked about how you were sort of assessing what you wanted to do and sort of what the next step of your studies in your career were sort of looking like. And I think in the post, you shared that you weren’t the same person as you were when you were 15 years old, when you had said, you know, “I wanted to go to medical school.” And when you look back while being an undergrad in your fourth year, you realize that you were a different person now, right? So how do you think one goes about building that ability to be introspective to look inside and kind of assess, like, “What is it that I really want to spend this precious time I have on this planet? And is it in public health?” So like, what kind of questions and things were you asking yourself to help you with that assessment process?

Sophiya 10:08
Yeah, so I’m, I consider myself an introspective person, I do reflect a lot on my experiences. And I truly believe that experience isn’t complete until you reflect on it. You grow from it. So I, in my undergrad, I tried to get a lot of different types of experiences. And then after each one, or during each one, I would assess, you know, it was simple. I was like, “Do I like this? Do I not like this?” And then it was “Okay. If I like this, how can I delve into it more? How can I change what I’m doing?” So it was this constant questions, I was asking myself, and I’ve done that for the longest time I remember. But yeah, I think it’s those experiences and reflecting on those experiences that have changed me. So when I was 15, I thought that I want to go into medicine. So in middle school, I think it was around the age of grade 10, when you have that careers class, and everyone’s talking about what they want to do. And I said, I want to be a pediatrician at the time. And, and I’m a first generation student, I’m first born in my family, and I come from India, and my backgrounds India. And so a lot of my, like, my parents had only told me that medicine was an option, because I was good in sciences, they’re like, “Okay, that’s what you’re gonna do, you’re gonna become a doctor.” So, I guess that’s the route, I felt like that’s, that was the dream when I was a child. But then when I got into, when I was in undergrad, I started being exposed to a lot of different areas, started learning about different areas. And that’s when I think a lot of the reflection was happening. As I was taking all these courses, that volunteering and different types of activities. I learned that medicine wasn’t for me at that point. So yeah, in terms of how to be introspective, I would just say is, take the time to do it. Life is really busy. So you have to dedicate that time, I think, for reflections. And really, this is a skill that I also picked up in my master’s to do it more. So after we had a communications course at that time. And our prof would always tell us to reflect after we would do all these different sessions. And to write them down, actually not just reflect in your head, but to write them down. And I’ve done that since then. And it’s helped me. So if people started doing that, even at an earlier age, I think that would be helpful. And yeah, it’s just draw those connections between all these experiences, all the knowledge that you’re learning, when you’re meeting people. Yeah, you just draw on all these connections that you’re making.

Sujani 13:11
I think part of the process of that sort of assessing what you like, and what you don’t like is that, you know, you can do something and not enjoy it. And that’s okay. Your plans can change. You know, you might think that you like working in a hospital environment, and you go volunteer there for a few months and realize that, like I hate this environment, and that’s okay. I think part of that process is knowing that you’re not going to figure it out right off the bat. And part of understanding what you like, is also understanding what you don’t like so I think, yeah, just encouraging people around us to say, you know, try everything, maybe half those things are going to work out half of those things aren’t and part of the process is figuring, you know, shifting gears, maybe you have to take a couple steps backwards, and that’s okay. And I think you shared that a little bit in your post as well, that it’s okay to change your career plans, even if they’re completely unrelated.

Sophiya 14:08
Yeah, it’s scary to do, I get it and changing career plans you- I feel like the biggest worry is that you’re wasting time. And we all know that we don’t have much of it. So I think that’s scary. And then there’s like expectations that you have of yourself and others have a view. And when you were changing your field, your- you feel like you’re letting people down. But I think that it’s becoming more common. I think a lot of people are changing, not are changing fields completely are little as they grow, as they learn, which is I think great.

Sujani 14:49
Yeah. And I think like in the grand scheme of things like two or three additional years and undergrad is nothing compared to the 30 years you’re going to spend working in that field. So definitely like time- time is something I think even I considered, it was like, I can’t switch my major now because I’m going to extend my undergrad by a year. But really, you know, doing that right off the bat really saves a lot of pain later on, I’d say,

Sophiya 15:16
Yeah, definitely. One takeaway I get when I meet a lot of academics and working professionals is they never thought that they would be where they are now, thinking back to where they started there. It was all these- a lot of times these random opportunities that pop up, that led to where they are now. And they just went with it. They went with how they felt at the time, and the opportunities and their ability to take them. Yeah.

Sujani 15:51
I think going back to, you know, you sharing that you’re- you come from an immigrant family, similar to myself. You- you’re, you’re from India, and I’m from Sri Lanka. And yeah, I think the professions that we’re exposed to, at least in the science field are so small, it’s like doctor, dentists, pharmacists, nurse. And so you grow up as a child thinking, “Okay, I think I like helping people, I think I want to be a doctor or dentist.” What would you say to some of those students kind of who come from that similar upbringing? And they think that they want to be in medicine? Like, how do you think they should go about I know, you talked about it a bit more kind of assessing what you really like, what you don’t like, but someone who’s stepping into undergrad thinking, medicine is what I think I want to do, like, what would you say to someone like that?

Sophiya 16:47
Yeah, I would say that they should volunteer, they should try to expose themselves to that environment, whether that’s shadowing someone, whether it’s volunteering in a hospital or some community organization, try to learn about the field. And I would say that, really, they should be introspective and think, why is it that they want to do that. And if it’s really what they want to do, then go for it. If it and like, if it’s not, then, then you should be open to other, other options. And not think that that was your plan B or Plan C, and really own the decision to change. Yeah and don’t think that what you’re doing is less than you would have if you were in medicine. And in terms of, yeah, having those if you come from those backgrounds, you don’t know about all these options, I will say really learned like, find a mentor, find someone who’s four or five years older than you and ask them, ask them about these different options. Don’t be afraid to ask. Even if they’re dumb questions, ask them what their day is like what they’ve learned. And that’s how you learn I think about all these different fields, because there’s so many that I still don’t even know I’m learning. There’s, yeah, there’s a huge amount of jobs and programs out there. And I think by talking to people, I think you can learn more about them.

Sujani 18:23
Definitely, I think the people that are sort of ahead of you for five years, I think you can find them. You know, in your school, you can find them at your volunteer jobs, definitely like mentorship or even just having those conversations with people is is definitely one way to go. And then with volunteer experiences, I know Sophiya, you’ve had many great opportunities to intern and volunteer, what do you think people should kind of look out for when they’re testing out some of these career options and volunteering at their place? Like it’s not only sort of the technical aspect of that role, right? There’s more of like, what does the day look like? Who am I interacting with? From your experience, what are some things people can keep an eye out when they are testing out these career paths through volunteering?

Sophiya 19:12
Yeah, I think how do meaningful volunteering, I feel like volunteering at a gift shop in a hospital is not meaningful. It’s not really it won’t teach you much besides just putting a line on your CV. Like I haven’t been motivated, I do activities not because they put their just lie on my CV. I like doing activities that really I feel like will be helpful in terms of developing a skill or enhancing, like my knowledge of something to meet people. Those are more reasons why I volunteered. And I think that you should really want- you should look for opportunities that align with what you want to do or ones that you’re curious about. So like we were saying the ones that you don’t like. I think you’ll learn that you don’t like them once you do them.

Sujani 20:04
You know, a question that I’m always stuck with that I get through PH SPOT. It’s around, like public health. And often people say they want to get some volunteer experience in epidemiology, I think we’re going to be sort of brainstorming on this podcast episode together. Can you think of any, like places that young students can go to, or even early professionals to sort of volunteer in the area of public health where they can get that sort of meaningful experience tangible and sort of like hands on?

Sophiya 20:38
Yeah, so one, if you’re like, if you’re an undergrad is do your thesis in epi. You can do a third, third year, fourth year thesis with someone who’s working in the field, you can ask your professors if they have studies that you can help out with. So tap into your professors and your courses that way. Some courses, there’s increasingly amount to do community engaged learning. That’s, so they connect you with- with community organizations that do that work, like I know, Mcmaster, they have this, I would like to say organization, but I’m not sure, called Research Shop, where you volunteer with them. And they set you up with a community organization who defines what the project will look like, and you help with the- work with the organization to complete it in a semester. So an EPI, an organization that focuses on epi could be one of them. So and following like all these newsletters, like PH SPOT is great. That platform, but you can follow all these other ones and see what options are available through that way.

Sujani 21:51
Yeah, I remember when I, when I was an undergrad I started volunteering with at the time was called Canadian Diabetes Association. Now they’re titled Diabetes Canada. And I know I went in doing just very administrative tasks. But then soon, you know, once you get your foot in the door, people know you, you can really start identifying some projects where you want to build your skill. And I think that’s where being proactive is going to help you build those skills that you want, either as an epidemiologist or health promoter, whichever path that you’re thinking going into. And like you said, these community organizations, I think, if students can just reach out to them and see where their gaps are in sort of the skills that they need, and offer to maybe develop a survey and analyze those results and sort of use what they’re learning in school and apply to a real world scenario. So being proactive, make actions, yeah.

Sophiya 22:48
And then I feel like there are a lot of like summer internships, and they grow from undergrads that you can apply to. The Government of Canada was here a few weeks ago and back and they were encouraging undergrads to apply to some of their programs that are available. So looking for those. But yeah, it takes time, it’s- you have to go and you have to sit. And you have to look for these opportunities, through organization websites, through platforms such as PH SPOT, and then it’s talking to people and figuring out what opportunities are available.

Sujani 23:23
Yeah, totally. Yeah. So I think, you know, going back to our topic of being introspective, being reflective of your career choices, and sort of deciding whether that’s aligning what you with what you really want, and to our initial topic of, you know, why you decided to not pursue medical school, a question I want to sort of wrap up with here is, do you ever in the back of your head think maybe I should have gone to medical school? Is that like a voice that comes to you ever?

Sophiya 23:58
Yeah, that’s a really good question. Yes, it does. I continue- you- we began talking about like, what I was thinking when I wrote it.

Sujani 24:05

Sophiya 24:06
And I continuously think about it. Because I’m, so I’m doing my PhD now. And a lot of MD PhDs also do the work that I do. And some of that, I think that maybe having that MD title, with the PhD would help in terms of getting funding in terms of doing my research. So it’s something that I think about, but then I think that- I go back to the thought that I don’t want to do clinical work. I can do I can have an impact with a PhD as well. And I don’t- I don’t have to necessarily do an MD for that. But yeah, it’s something that I continuously think about. And, you know, being in health policy being in public health, you interact a lot with MDs. And sometimes I think that, do I want to do this?

Sujani 25:06
But do you think that’s going to be sort of an ongoing battle in your head? Or do you think there will come a point where you will sort of put that to rest?

Sophiya 25:20
I’m not sure. Yeah, I, I don’t think I want to do- I think the thought will always be there. But I don’t. Yeah, I don’t see it going away. But it’s not that it’s detrimental. I just, I just get that thought that, “Oh, maybe if I did MD I could have done this, this this.” But I think that could be with anything. Yeah.

Sujani 25:48
Yeah, I know, I know. For me, when I started undergrad, I thought I wanted to go into dentistry. And then, you know, I found public health epidemiology, I really liked it, I pursued my master’s there, I started working. And I think it took almost, I’d say, about seven to eight years to fully put it to rest and be content with what I had graduated with and the work I was doing. So,

Sophiya 26:12

Sujani 26:13
I can say that. Yeah, for me, I think I’ve put dentistry to rest. But definitely, you know, when you- when you’re working with physicians in public health, you often wonder how much more could I do with an MD and that- I think that question is always there.

Sophiya 26:29

Sujani 26:30
But you’re right, that clinical aspect is not attractive for me.

Sophiya 26:34
Yeah, like I’m content. And I’m, like, happy that what I chose what, like the route that I chose, and where I am, and I don’t see myself as being empty. But have you- Did you see the meme that’s going viral right now with the flight attendant?

Sujani 26:49
What does it say?

Sophiya 26:53
Think I had it open. But it’s just the flight attendant comes and announces to people saying, like, is there a doctor on board? There’s a flat?

Sujani 26:54
Oh, yes.

Sophiya 26:54
Yeah. And then the dad says, “Oh, that could have been you.” And then the son goes, “Oh, but-“

Sujani 27:06
I think it was a law professional. right?

Sophiya 27:08
Yeah, or something like that. And so many, there’s been so many iterations of that now. And it’s all these people being like, “Oh, I could have been an MD. But- or, doctor, but I’m doing this now.”

Sujani 27:17

Sophiya 27:18
So I think that doesn’t go for a lot of people. I don’t think that goes away. Like I’m doing my PhD right now in health policy, and a lot of students. And a lot of academics actually want to be in a MDs at some point. But here they are, they’re not doing yet now. So I think that it’s one of those professions that a lot of people want to go into it in the beginning. But then somehow they find a different route that worked for that better.

Sujani 27:49
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode with Sophiya, I truly enjoy talking to her. I really love to hear when people are introspective. They reflect on their experiences. And something that she said that really stuck with me was that “An experience isn’t complete until you reflect on it and grow from it.” So I hope you can use that as a reminder to take every experience, reflect on it, see what you learned from it, what you can take away from it before you move on. So with that, if you want to get any of the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pH spot.ca/podcast. And we’ll have everything there for you including all of the blog posts that Sophiya wrote for PH SPOT. And we’ll also include a link to her personal blog so that you can follow her journey. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


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PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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