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Graduate profile: Journey to fast-track medicine

Darwin Jimal feels extremely lucky to have gained entrance to the direct-entry medical program at Queen’s University.

Dubbed the Queen’s Accelerated Route to Medical School (QuARMS),it’s the only admission track of its type in Canada for high school graduates, granting students an MD after six years of study. Only 10 students are admitted annually.

“It’s almost like winning the lottery,” says Darwin.

As you can imagine, luck had very little to do with Darwin’s successful application. True, he may not have had the same stratospheric marks as many of his competitors, but it became clear during his Queen’s interview that Darwin’s motivation was extraordinary.

“It was definitely more the ‘why’ rather than my resume,” he admits.

So why does Darwin want to become a doctor? The answer can be traced back to 1998, one year before Darwin was born. His parents fled Iraq as Kurdish refugees with Darwin’s then 9- and 11-year-old sisters in tow. They escaped to Turkey and the UN assigned them to relocate to Canada. Not knowing a single person in the country, Darwin’s family eventually settled in Scarborough and began their life anew.

Darwin Jimal destination: Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

Darwin Jimal ’17
destination: Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont.

Despite the fact that Darwin had a relatively peaceful childhood compared to his sisters, his family’s past was a constant presence. Darwin’s dad had fought as a soldier in the Iraq war and was permanently disabled, and Darwin would often accompany him to hospital visits.

“Just being in that environment in my younger years exposed me to all the different aspects of medicine,” he says.

As he grew older, Darwin’s appreciation for what his parents and siblings had endured also grew.

“I kept thinking ‘that could’ve been me,’ so I wanted to do whatever I could to experience it and give back in whatever way I could.”

So this school year he finally decided to do something about it. He arranged through very unofficial channels to visit and help at a refugee camp in Mosul, Iraq over the December 2016 school break. (We wrote about Darwin’s experiences in an earlier story, a must-read in order to understand why Darwin’s ‘why’ is truly remarkable.) It was a life-altering experience to say the least.

“Stepping into the camp for the first time… you see it on the news, but once you see it for real and see what it’s like, it hits you like nothing else. You can’t even imagine that it’s real,” he says.

Not only did the experience have a huge impact on Darwin, he was more than able to give back in the way he’d hoped. While he wasn’t able to directly assist the doctors who made rounds at the camp, Darwin entertained the kids and organized soccer games to help them keep their minds off their surroundings.

Darwin formed a special relationship with one boy in particular, an 8-year-old named Ibrahim who couldn’t play with the other children because he had a birth defect called omphalocele. Omphalocele is where internal organs like the liver, intestines or other organs poke out through the belly button encased in a translucent sac. In developed countries, it is usually addressed through surgery shortly after birth. Unfortunately, Ibrahim’s family was never able to afford the surgery.

So once Darwin returned to UCC, he rallied friends and family together to raise $5,000 USD for the operation. Darwin was recently in touch with the family and learned that the surgery was a success and that Ibrahim is recovering well.

If this is the kind of care Darwin’s patients can expect after he graduates from QuARMS, we’d argue they’re the lucky ones.