Five thousand kilometres from home, Katie Cheliak waited for the news she had worked so hard to achieve.
Earlier this spring, the 21-year-old Medical Sciences student sat alone in a quiet room in rural Ecuador and opened the e-mail that would change her life — she had been accepted to medical school.
Cheliak’s journey to this pivotal moment started years earlier. By the time she finished high school, she knew she wanted a career in health care, which led her to Brock to take Medical Sciences and participate in the University’s unique Med Plus program.
Med Plus is a co-curricular program that includes job shadowing, networking opportunities with health-care professionals, skill development workshops and community service projects for experiential learning. Since the program’s inception 18 years ago, hundreds of participants have gone on to pursue careers in the health-care field.
Cheliak is quick to say Med Plus was a big reason for choosing Brock. “It’s super unique,” she said, “and it gives you the chance to get great hands-on experience. Later on it also helped with applications and interview prep for med school.”
She has participated in many Med Plus activities while at Brock, but the trip to Ecuador, through the Solidarity Experiences Abroad program, had a particularly profound impact.
Cheliak and her colleagues were able to put their skills to the test as they volunteered in various parts of the South American country, measuring patients’ blood pressure, height, weight and blood glucose, as well as helping with fluoride campaigns.
Besides assisting local physicians, the Brock students also soaked up some key lessons for their future careers.
“Being able to get a glimpse into ruling in or out certain things, to determine what the problem with the patient was, and how to treat it, was awesome,” said Cheliak.
But the timing of the trip meant that Cheliak, and teammates Kelli Turner and Shabana Jamani, had to learn about their hoped-for medical school acceptance while they were far from home, and in the midst of a busy schedule.
Even though the results came out in the morning of one of their volunteer days, the trio decided to wait until the evening to find out the important news, so as not to interfere with their work.
“We worked all day in a rural community, and when we got back to our retreat house we separated and found a quiet room. I opened up my phone, saw the email and freaked out a bit. Then I called my parents to share the exciting news,” said Cheliak.
All three had been accepted to medical school — in Cheliak’s case, the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University. That night, the whole group joined together in the festivities.
“All of our rooms faced onto one hallway, and everyone came out to celebrate with us,” she said.
Katrina Volpini, Brock’s Med Plus Consultant, described the excitement of being with the students far from home when they received the news.
“It was incredible to see our students achieve their goal,” said Volpini. “We have been working alongside all of them as they went through the interview process in the last few months. It was even more fun to hear the news with them in such a far-away place, and to see them immediately begin to take the next steps in their careers.”
Med Plus graduates consistently gain admission to further education programs in the health-care field, including medical school, master’s programs, physical therapy, midwifery and occupational therapy. In 2017, 100 per cent of Med Plus’ graduating students who applied, as well as several first- and third-year students, were accepted into further education programs.
Upon receiving the news that she had been accepted, Cheliak had a lot of new emotions to consider, but the Ecuadorian doctors she was working with offered lots of helpful advice.
Being overseas to receive the news may have been a sign of things to come for Cheliak, who is now considering pursuing opportunities in international medical work.
But for now, she’s focused on the next stage in her life’s journey and can’t wait to get started in the fall.
“This is my passion and I am happy to do what I want to do in the future,” she said. “I am confident in the path I have chosen and thankful to Med Plus for helping me to get there.”