Interview with Samuel Chan, Medical Student, on Medicine and Research
In our September 2019 edition of Leader in the Spotlight, we’re excited to feature our National Young Leader mentor, Samuel Chan. He obtained his Bachelor of Science majoring in physiology and immunology at the University of Toronto, where he led UofT’s Stem Cell Club. Presently, Samuel is a 4th year medical student at the University of Toronto. He has conducted research in a wide range of disciplines and has co-authored 7 research publications. In our interview, Samuel discusses his path to medicine, provides advice on preparing for medical school, and outlines differences between various research types.
- You completed an Honours Bachelor of Science in physiology and immunology at the University of Toronto. How did you gravitate towards physiology and immunology?
I gravitated towards a degree in physiology because I was always interested in the mechanisms underlying our everyday health problems and why certain people get so sick. A classic UofT example is, what is diabetes? What are the central mechanisms that cause people to become diabetic? By understanding the physiological mechanisms of how people develop Type 1 diabetes, we understand how Banting and Best were able to save Type 1 diabetics and win the Nobel Prize. Meanwhile, immunology is more of my love of one specific physiological system – our ability to talk with the microscopic world! It also helped that I have amazing friends who studied immunology. My current medical interests now reflect the duality of my current interests as a future physician. I hope to pursue a residency in internal medicine and potentially sub-specialize in an area to apply my passion for immunology, for example, in immune-oncology.
- What differences have you noticed exist between undergraduate studies and medical school? What tips do you have to prepare undergrads for medicine?
The first two years of medical school was not very different from my experience in undergrad as both mostly composed of didactic teaching. Although my courses were different, I continued to pursue research and extracurriculars in medical school; so, time-wise they were mostly spent on the same thing.
The biggest difference was the reduction in pressure to attain the highest grades possible for the sake of a high test score. Instead, I would learn things that I felt would be useful to learn and not sweat the minor details if they weren’t as important. For incoming undergrads interested in pursuing medicine, I would advise them to explore early on what area of medicine you are interested in. The sooner you figure it out, the easier your life will become. Be proactive, find mentors, and explore, explore and explore! My mentors have told me this: It does not matter if you get 90% or 99% in a pass-fail curriculum, but your chances of getting into a competitive residency is higher if you start early.
- You’ve conducted research in diverse areas- including basic science in protein structural biology, to clinical research looking at retrospective and database studies, to healthy systems research evaluating populations. How do each of these types of research differ from each other?
They are vastly different in terms of their scope (whether an atomic microscope vs. a provincial database) and in their thinking. When I was a basic scientist, the amount of control I had over experiments was vast and we examined very specific parameters. When I did translational benchwork, work was focused more on correlating biophysical mechanisms with clinical outcomes- sort of a bridge between the two, but the biophysical mechanisms were specific. When I moved into looking at clinical and genomic predictors, it was flipped; I used broad biological markers to explain more specific clinical outcomes. Everything is shared but each area uses different methodologies for their investigations and have different priorities. Overall, I had amazing learning experiences, as I jumped into many different research projects. As a result, I’ve been able to hit the ground running using my diverse experiences!
- Given your interest in academic research, will you be continuing to pursue research as a physician? If so, what capacities are available options?
Absolutely, I will continue to be academic medicine! Fortunately, there are many options available. For my goals, I am leaning towards the clinical side but would like to have a couple of fingers in translational research. I hope to help drive discovery by providing a clinical focus in molecular-based research and by collaborating with translational scientists.
- What has been your most memorable experience in your undergrad or medical school studies thus far?
I have too many to pick from honestly! My most fond memories aren’t academic but centre on my friends who I’ve met during my academic journey. I have met so many interesting, brilliant, and kind people. Some of them have become life-long best friends who mean the world to me and my fondest memories are sharing all the laughs, tears and celebrations together 😊