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About Jiameng Xu

Jiameng Xu is in the seventh year of the MD-PhD program at McGill University. She has recently completed her PhD in rehabilitation science. Her dissertation is an ethnographic study based in an inpatient psychiatry unit, which captures the lived experience of persons living with mental illness and their family members. Prior to entering medical school, she received a bachelor of science in life sciences, specializing in neuroscience, from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She has also been involved in initiatives to create a space for the arts and humanities within health professional training and in spaces of health care delivery.


When I would tell my classmates that I was a student in the MD-PhD program and that I would be taking a leave of absence of 4 years to complete a PhD, I often received the response that I was being brave. I knew they were commending me for taking a leap. Yet a part of me believed I was not as brave as they imagined. The transition into clinical practice that they were imminently facing would begin for me in 4 years’ time. In between, I would have the opportunity to learn something deeply important that would help me do the kind of work I envisioned and that I believed would help me take better care of patients. In truth, I felt very fortunate to be able to return to medicine, that a space was being kept for me upon my return, and that I would still be allowed to reenter the class. I felt the security of someone who was going forth on a journey and had received the gift of a two-way ticket.


  • Learning clinical medicine is a lifelong journey. The bumpiness of returning to medical school will pass.

  • Ask for help. Everyone around you can be a teacher. Allow yourself to ask your classmates for an orientation, for example, or let your supervisors know if there is something in particular you want to practice or learn more about.

  • Offer help. Reach out to other classmates who are returning to medical school after a leave of absence. Offer ideas and suggestions to those around you who are entering the world of research.

  • Celebrate the strengths gained during your PhD studies. Do not be afraid to draw upon the learning and experiences you have gained during your graduate studies when it is pertinent to a clinical situation. Often, your classmates and colleagues will want to know about your research and what you have gained from it.

  • Begin to work out your own ways of having a foot in both the worlds of clinical medicine and research. Give yourself time and curiosity to adjust to the culture of clinical medicine while holding on to the sensibilities you have honed while doing research.

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