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A Saint James Student Experience with Ivan Escodero

August 01, 2017
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You went to Anguilla and you started in spring 2014, correct?


Why did you choose to become a doctor?

Ever since I was a child, I’ve noticed that [doctors] have a tremendous amount of knowledge, and I was always drawn to that. I was always drawn to the science aspect – I was always curious about the human body, so that really drew me in. And as I got older and got more into science, my grandmother became sick, and there was nothing I could really do. I didn’t have enough knowledge to make recommendations. All my family and I could do was just be there for her, support her. Seeing the way that her doctors handled the situation and addressed our concerns, it was incredible; I admired that because I wanted to be just like that. I wanted to offer more than just love and support, I wanted to be able to make a difference and to take charge. That’s the whole point of being a physician: you make decisions and you can really, really shape someone’s life, and that’s something that I strive to be.

How did you choose Saint James for your medical education?

I chose Saint James because it’s more affordable than other schools. What also drew me in was the fact that the MCAT wasn’t required, so that was very enticing. And I heard other good things about Saint James and MD doctors that have come out from that school. I did look at other schools, and some of them told me to either retake the MCAT or I missed the deadline—and that was very frustrating. Then I chose Saint James and here I am and I have passed all my board exams and I am very thankful for that

What was your career or life like before you started at Saint James?

Well, before I started at Saint James, I was completing my undergrad and I was interested in doing research. I did a little bit of research with one of my professors, but it was kind of not formal—it was just gathering some information. I was just completing my undergrad before medical school, but I also volunteered every so often.

What were your first impressions of Anguilla?

My first impressions of Anguilla … surprising. It wasn’t what I expected. Obviously I knew I was going to a Caribbean country, and it was going to be different from Canada and the United States; but after going there, I saw that there just wasn’t as much offered as what I had back home. So it was very surprising, kind of a culture shock. At the same time, it was very exciting because I knew that I was engaging in a new chapter of my life—not to mention, it was very very conducive to studying. People get distracted other places, but Anguilla takes it all away – It was more relaxing and more calming.

Now was there anything that you liked best about Anguilla?

The people. The people were phenomenal—everyone there was welcoming, everyone was down to earth. It just felt like I was in a family environment, and the school was very welcoming as well—it made me feel right at home. I am very family oriented and they made me feel like I wasn’t even far from home. And the beaches were great—they are phenomenal.

Did you participate in any clubs or activities when you were on campus?

Yes, I got involved with AMSA, the Red Cross and any other social events that SGA made I would get involved with and show my participation.

Did you have any favorite events that you participated in?

Red Cross was excellent, that was one of my favorite events. I think that it gave students a really good opportunity to not only practice and hone their clinical skills but also connect with the community and really interact with the people. I know that, when I did Red Cross, I really discovered some interesting stories about these people and their lives. It was really, really interesting, and I learned from that.

Who were your favorite professors?

All my professors were great. I have been blessed to have such excellent professors. Everyone took the time to teach me and my peers—they were great. Everything that I saw on Step 1 and Step 2 was taught in class and taught with scientific rigor. Dr. Iliou was amazing; he is so caring, so down to earth, and he genuinely wants the student to succeed. He is excellent. Dr. Page was great, phenomenal, answered questions excellently and was a great student advocate. Outside of class even, if you had a bad day you could talk to her, you could talk to Dr. Iliou. They were so open. All these professors were great; they really cared about the students, they wanted you to succeed and it’s really hard to have just one favorite. They were all great and I think they really helped me in achieving my dream and getting where I am today.

Did you have any favorite courses or subjects?

Yeah, physiology was great. I love that biochemistry as well, but also pathology—pathology was just amazing and so interesting, and so many students were looking forward to pathology. But I think those were my favorite courses. Then other courses, you know, I grew an interest for, especially ethics and embryology. Although they weren’t all my top favorites, I enjoyed studying them collectively, and that’s the whole point of medicine.

Have you had a favorite clinical rotation so far?

All my rotations have been amazing, especially here in Virginia. Family medicine, Dr. Reynolds is absolutely great, very down to earth. OBGYN was good, psychiatry was phenomenal. I learned so muc. Surgery was great I think, that was with Dr. Pasquall. I was able to do things that I think other students would have never been able to do. A lot of these professors really, really challenge the students and really want the students to be able to rationalize and interpret certain things and act independently. They really guide the students, and they are so up-to-date with the material and with new drugs. They’re great at answering questions. I’m doing rheumatology now; these preceptors are great; you can tell that they love their job and they love teaching.

How was your experience with the USMLE Step 1? Did you feel prepared?

I did well. Having these courses in a 4-month timeframe required me to really condense and study new material every day. I wasn’t able to consolidate it as best I wanted to, but with that being said, I took the review course, went through AICM and I just buckled down. I studied hard, but I studied smart. A lot of students think that you’ve got to spend countless hours and days just studying and barely get any sleep, but you’re setting yourself up for failure. You really have to study smart and plan your day ahead and understand the concepts instead of memorizing. I think in the review course, and in AICM, the professors really focused on what helped me for Step 1 and addressed those questions, so it didn’t take me long to get prepared for Step 1. I was very determined, and I had that drive to just write Step 1, pass and do well.

Have you had any memorable experiences during clinicals?

[Laughs] Well, there are so many experiences that I’ve had, but, in general, how the patients just tell you about their lives. They tell you everything. I can’t really tell you a single case, but it’s really memorable when you see these patients, and just by asking them questions, they open up and you’re able to establish a really good relationship. Just experiencing the lives of these patients, you know they’re human as well, and that goes a long way when you just talk to them and understand where they’re coming from.

What speciality do you think you’re going to choose?

I’m going to choose internal medicine. I think it’s challenging, it requires a lot of thought, and that’s what I’m drawn towards.

Now you’re Canadian right?


Are you looking to go back to Canada, or stay in the US, or just go wherever the wind takes you?

Wherever the wind takes me. I passed the MCCE and the NAC OSCE exams, but I’m going to apply to both the United States and Canada. I love the US, and I would love to stay here; but at the same time, I want to keep my options open.

So what have you found to be the most difficult thing about medical school so far?

Support. I think, for me personally, the material isn’t difficult. What makes students think that medical school is difficult is the amount of information that is thrown at you, as well as deadlines and exams and getting that all done. Anyone can learn this material, it’s just really wanting to absorb the information and use it. But if you don’t have the support you need, it can really get to you, and it will be very difficult to pass. And not only the students, but I know with patients, if they have a support system, they heal better. I’ve seen that first hand. I’m fortunate to have a very good support system with my family, and they have guided me through the most difficult times.

Do you feel Saint James supported you through the program?

Yea, I think that they did. Whenever I called, they addressed my questions and concerns. I had to call and email and find out information for myself, but when I did that, they still took the time out to answer those questions.

What advice would you give incoming Saint James students?

What advice would I give incoming Saint James students? Never give up. Always keep pushing, no matter what. Just keep studying, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And get lots of sleep—don’t pull all-nighters, don’t cram, just get lots of sleep, keep pushing, keep studying. And my number one advice is: be confident. If you have a confident attitude, you’ll be confident to learn more, you’ll be confident with your answers, and then at the end of the day, you’ll be confident in the decision you make as a physician. So confidence is crucial.

How do you feel about your future as a Saint James graduate?

I feel good about it. Obviously residency doesn’t come easily. They don’t come knocking on your door and say “hey, here’s residency served on a silver platter” – you really have to grab it by the horns and say “I am going to do this.” But I feel really proud to be an SJSM graduate. I know that medical school is a tough, long journey, but no one holds your hand; and I think SJSM professors have been great, and I’ve been blessed to have such tremendous guidance, and I think that will really prepare me for residency. I feel confident that I will get residency. Everything that SJSM has done on the island and in clinicals has really helped me develop character and be shaped into the best physician that I can be.  
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