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"How to Get into Medical School, Part I" and "Take All of Murphy"

"Getting into medical school for a lot of people is like a love affair, a very bad love affair. It's like a quasi-romantic, quasi-religious quest, with all else falling to the wayside and all these theories on the inside scoop of how it's done, how to make it happen. It's all give and no get. You just drive yourself nuts."

~Vincent Lam

Summary: "How to Get Into Medical School, Part I" and "Take All of Murphy" (303 KB)

Thoughts from Queen's campus

By Caleigh Minshall, Learning Strategies Outreach Coordinator (, Twitter: @SASS_LS)

Learning Strategies can help you enhance your academic skills and habits. From quantitative problem-solving to active reading to exam prep to time management, we will help you learn to meet your academic goals (whatever those goals may be!).  Visit the Student Academic Success Services website for online resources and workshops in the fall and winter terms (including “Making the Grade: Transition from High School to University”). You’ll also find details on booking an individual consultation with a professional writing consultant or learning strategist.  All our services are free for Queen's students.

How will you choose to study in university? - A reflection on “How to Get into Medical School, Part I”

… [Fitz] was immersed in the material … he was trying to get inside it.
Because I work in Learning Strategies, my first response was basic instinct: a classic case of one student ineffectively matching his study habits to his exam type and the level of thinking being assessed. A common first-year, not to mention upper-year, problem! Formidable Ming self-tests regularly, uses flash cards, breaks her courses into manageable chunks, and plans her time with killer precision. She rocks her exam. Fitz, meanwhile, careens gleefully across course content: drawing diagrams comprehensible only to himself, no clear plan whatsoever.
Needless to say, he does not rock his exam.
The simple fix: Fitz just needs to pick up Ming’s habits and then he might go to medical school, too. But the story is, as always, more complicated.
Ming readily admits that she “has decided to be occupied primarily with the facts … and less with comprehension.” But will that help her if she becomes a doctor? She learned her ace study strategies from her older cousin, Karl, who now flourishes in medical school himself. Then again, Karl hurts other people for his own pleasure – also not a great trait in doctors.
Good-natured Fitz seeks to understand, not perform on tests. He uses mind maps to find connections between ideas and regularly teaches concepts to Ming. These are excellent study strategies in their own right. Mastery of the content motivates Fitz. Despite Fitz not nailing important exams, Ming says that he knows his stuff. Perhaps most importantly, Fitz is at peace: even if he doesn’t get the grades, he knows he learned the info.
Ming receives four medical school interviews. Fitz gets none. But I know who I’d rather meet in an emergency room, so those results are not the final answer.
Maybe if Fitz and Ming had shared study strategies as well as sexual tension, their results would be a little more even. Next year, will you follow Ming or Fitz – or both? 

Think about it

  1. Think about Lam’s portrayal of university life.  How do Lam’s ideas about university differ from the ‘popular culture’ view of university life?
  2. Contrast the character of Ming in the first two stories. Does Lam hint or foreshadow how Ming reacts and behaves once she gets into medical school?
  3. How do Lam’s descriptions of Ming and Fitz's exam-writing styles reflect their personalities?  Whose approach to academics do you most identify with? 
  4. Some of our most significant relationships in life are formed with the people we meet during our post-secondary education. Reflect on your own friendships and compare them to relationships of the med students on the anatomy dissection team.
  5. In medicine (and other fields), there is often a balance required between emotional involvement and detachment.  Do you feel one is more important? Where do the characters in “Take All of Murphy” fall on such a scale?  How might their varying degrees of emotional involvement impact their personal and professional lives?
  6. Why do you think Dr. Harrison requires his students to make origami with one of their lab manual pages at the end of each session?  How does this approach to learning fit in relation to those of Ming and Fitz presented in the first story?

Queen's connection

  • Upon receipt of their graded biochemistry finals, Ming suggests that Fitz submit his exam for re-grading.  At Queen’s, the Academic Grievance Centre is the place to go if you have any questions or concerns about academic grievances, discipline, or regulations.
  • How would you like the chance to work with human cadavers like the students in “Take All of Murphy”?  At Queen’s, first year students enrolled in ANAT 101: Introductory Human Anatomy are given the opportunity to interact with cadaveric specimens during labs at the School of Medicine! 
  • Ming, Chen, Sri, and Murphy have varying spiritual beliefs.  If you are in need of a spiritual advisor or simply someone to talk to during times of crisis, change, or loneliness, consider visiting the Office of the Chaplain

Media & links

Did you know that Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures was adapted into a television series by HBO Canada?  Check out the trailer!  


"Think about it" questions 1-2 ​​adapted from "Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures Content Questions," Peel District School Board (.doc, 28.5 KB); question 4 adapted from