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Sue the bastards

So, I was watching the news scroll on CP24 about a week ago, as some nice background ambient noise, and I noticed something that caught my eye.

“Judge throws out case of Winnipeg woman suing University after not getting into medical school.”

Sigh. Strap in folks, this is going to be a long one.

So, being a little bit bemused by the byline, and having a vested personal interest in the subject, I looked the case up. It turns out it’s not quite as laughable as it first seems (though it is sort-of, but in kind of a sad way. Maybe I’m just projecting though). The facts of the case seem to be this: a girl named Henya Olfman applied to medical school at the University of Manitoba in 2009. She was interviewed, and unfortunately, rejected post interview.

I can relate. This has happened to me twice, and it sucks.

And then she and her lawyer father Shawn Olfman sued the University.

Less relating here.

Shawn Olfman’s claim, upon viewing parts of it, is long and verbose, but ultimately seems to be distilled down to these points.

1) His daughter had high marks in her pre-med university courses, scored well in the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and provided great references.
2) The university broke an unwritten contract or agreement by letting her take “pre-med” courses and then rejecting her, as those courses assume entrance to medical school.
3) The university breached a contract it had with students who applied to the medical school by changing its interview criteria without notice.
4) Interviews violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the school’s own policies because they are based too much on the personal opinions of the applicants and not their abilities.
Quoting Shawn Olfman: “The person is to be judged on their merit, but a person’s thoughts, political beliefs, opinions, religion are irrelevant to whether a person should be advanced or denied advancement.”
5) That the university gave preference to rural applicants, further impairing his daughter’s chances of being admitted.

So, instead of just laughing at this claim (which I place on the father, who seems to have gotten a little out of hand) I thought I would go over the 5 points and leave my opinion’s on why a little bit of crying, moping with some ice cream and then reapplying probably would have been better for Henya Olfman than this.

1) Pretty much all applicant’s have these things. Medical school is competitive, which is why any “pre-med” or med student in Canada will tell you that your MCAT and your GPA are not a lock for med school. And I agree with this. I know a lot of really book smart people that would make terrible doctors. I have a friend who can ace a test in his sleep, but can’t look people in the eye and is generally terrible at social skills. He’s brilliant, but he’s researched based and he likes it that way
– he just doesn’t have the social skills to interact with patients.

2) Ok, so I’ve never attended U of M, but I did look into applying there (I was missing a biochem credit) but I think we need to talk about the myth of “pre-med courses.” In my undergrad, I never thought of my self as a “pre-med.” I was a psych major, and I was taking science courses as electives. My university didn’t call any of my pre-recs “pre-med courses.” I took english, physics, ochem and biochem (the Canadian “pre-recs” for med schools) as electives in my program, and never once did my profs call them “pre-med.” They mentioned that they were good prep for the MCAT, but there was never any idea that if I completed them, I was going to be offered a seat in med school. Additionally, the classes were required for many programs, and most of my classmates took them as required courses, not electives as I did. Bottom line – talking a pre-rec for something doesn’t mean you’ll get a place in that thing. I severely doubt the university made that claim, as if it had, you would have more students talking about it. Some USA programs are like this, and a few schools in Canada offer conditional acceptance after the 3rd year (assuming you complete your forth with grades above a certain mark) but this is a different issue. They’re not “pre-med courses” they are science courses, and doing well in them doesn’t mean anything beyond a GPA bump.

3) Ok, this I can feel for, sort-of. The lack of transparency in med school applications is a real issue, and I think if the father had focused more on that instead of grandstanding, we could have had an interesting debate rather than the laughfest we got. But regardless, the university has the right to change whatever the hell they want. When I applied to MUN this year, I was in the first round for their new interview, the traditional and the MMI. They notified us. It was in highlighted text on their website, and it was mentioned in their interview info packets sent to us. We could prepare. And yet, even if they had let us come into it blind (which I don’t imagine anyone would do, much less could do – these things get a lot of buzz, and the interview change came up in other media I was looking at) it still wouldn’t be grounds to sue. It would be shitty and horrible (and I can find no evidence that U of M did that) but it still would be legally ok for them to do that (which, as mentioned, I’m pretty sure they didn’t do). I might not like the MMI, but the school doesn’t have a legal obligation not to switch to it because I don’t like it.

4) I have no idea what that even means. That seems to be the point of the interview. Everyone has good grades and MCAT and “merit” which is why the interview is necessary. That robot that killed at Jeopardy would probably have a great GPA and MCAT. It would probably be a bad doctor (being a robot), something you would notice in an interview. And your thoughts, religious beliefs and options ARE important to whether you’ll be a good doctor. What if you are unwilling to give a patient a blood transfusion based on your religion? What if you happen to think that euthanization is awesome? What if your option is that vaccinations give kids autism (in related news, shut up Jenny McCarthy)? Those are all things that a school needs to know before they offer you admittance, and train you for 4 years, and that sense is gotten from the interview.

5) Ok, yes, geographical problems are a real thing. As an Ontario student (sort of, my residency is complicated by having more than one permanent provincial address) you draw the short end of the stick because Ontario doesn’t really reserve provincial seats. This process is because schools are provincially funded, not federally, and they want to retain the doctors they train, which is more likely if they are from that province. It’s the same principle with “rurality.” Rural areas are understaffed medically, and so, to try and combat this schools often reserve seats for rural applicants hoping that these students, once doctors, will be more likely to work in rural areas. Is it fair? Maybe. Is it illegal? No. And it’s understandable. I might not like it, and it’s not a perfect system, but I understand what the schools are trying to do. Instead of suing, do what everyone else does. Volunteer in a rural clinic and mention how much you love rural medicine and want to practice in a rural area (be sincere in this – the MMI can smell lies a mile away). Understand the system and work within it. Don’t sue them for trying to meet a need in the best way they can.

So yeah, to conclude, I’ve mentioned how disappointing not getting into med school can be. It can be downright soul crushing. But this isn’t the answer. Say this girl had won her appeal. Would her fellow students, who had earned their way in, have respected her for that? I don’t think so. And this lawsuit pretty much ruins her chances of getting into any Canadian school even if she did decide to expand her application and reapply. Her overzealous father, in an attempt to make a name for himself, has really screwed his daughter, and I feel sorry for her for that. Furthermore, there are real issues to be discussed about medical school applications in Canada, and lawsuits like this drown out those issues.

If you get rejected, cry a bit. Feel sorry for a moment, eat some ice cream, kick something. Then get back on the horse, expand your application and try again having learned something about how to deal with disappointment. You’re not entitled to a place in med school. You have to work to earn it, and if that takes you more than one try, then you’ve also learned a lesson in perseverance.

But don’t sue the bastards.

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