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Meet the woman behind @TheGirlyMD, a U of T med student who shares her experiences on social media

"I want to be that source of support for pre-med students who, like me, may not have someone in medicine they can use as a resource," says Courtney Francis (photo by Julia Soudat)

Second-year medical student Courtney Francis is known to many on social media as @TheGirlyMD. She’s using her rapidly growing platform as an opportunity to connect with others in the medical community, share what it’s like to be a medical student and empower young women to pursue their dreams.

Francis spoke to Faculty of Medicine writer Julia Soudat about what inspired her to publicly share her journey and what she’s learned from her experience.

What made you want to become a doctor?

Ever since I was a little girl, I always said that I wanted to become a doctor. However, it wasn’t until I began volunteering at a local hospital and shadowing physicians that I truly knew that this was the career for me. Of course, I loved to learn and wanted to help people, but it was witnessing the patient-physician relationship that really drew me in. The relationship a physician gets to have with their patients is something so special that you cannot get with any other career. Patients share things with their physicians that no one else may ever know. That kind of encounter is so intimate and unique, and it is a privilege to be a part of.

As much as medicine is a science and requires medical expertise, it is also an art that requires strong interpersonal skills and empathy. I wanted to use my social and emotional intelligence to help comfort and listen to my future patients in order to provide them with the patient-centred medical care they all deserve.

You run an Instagram page called The Girly MD. Can you talk a bit about that? What made you want to run a personal blog on social media? 

Yes, I run an Instagram page called The Girly MD (to be), as well as a website and a YouTube channel. The Girly MD (to be) is a platform where I document my journey through medical school, as well as provide guidance and support to pre-med students. I started this account in my first year of medical school after noticing that there was a lack of Canadian presence in the medical blogging world. When I was a pre-med student, I loved learning more about the life of physicians and the pathway to medicine by following various medical bloggers, but they were mainly Americans. When I got into medical school, I wanted to provide that same knowledge, experience and inspiration to pre-med students by sharing my story as a Canadian in medicine.

I am also a first-generation student and my pathway to medicine required a lot of planning ahead and research. I did not know anyone in the medical field whom I could rely on for support, and it took a lot of time and Googling to ensure that I met all the requirements for medical school. I want to be that source of support for pre-med students who, like me, may not have someone in medicine they can use as a resource. I also create informative blog posts and YouTube videos for pre-med students, so they can be successful in their own journey to medical school.

My hope for The Girly MD (to be) is to inspire young women to pursue their goals without being afraid of showing the world who they are. About 80 per cent of my followers are young women, so I share my journey so openly to show these young women that despite being a "pink-loving girly girl," I am still intelligent, determined, and hard-working. Those two worlds can co-exist and are not mutually exclusive. Being “feminine” should not deter women from pursuing male-dominated careers. I want to inspire young women to be proud of who they are and help motivate them to achieve their goals.

In general, I also think it is so important for young people to know that being a doctor does not require you to fit into a certain mould. You can be who you are, you can do the things you love, and you can still be a successful physician. That is the message I am trying to send.

What has been the most valuable aspect of running your social media platforms?

One of the most valuable aspects of running my social media platforms is connecting with other women in medicine. Although I run my account to encourage young women to pursue their goals and to help provide guidance to pre-med students, I also follow the journeys of various other women in the field, including medical students, residents, physicians, PAs, and nurses. I’ve watched these women provide insight on how they maintain their relationship/marriage, how they balance work and motherhood, and how they dealt with stigma associated with being a woman in medicine.

Together, we all have formed this supportive family on social media where we all uplift one another. In fact, I have actually connected with a few of these women in person and now consider them my friends.

Do you plan to continue growing your channels when you’re done your studies and move on to being a practicing physician?

Yes. That is exactly what I plan on doing. I want this platform to document my entire journey through medical school, residency and as a practicing physician. I want to show people what life as a medical professional is like and how I manage the other aspects of my life with a busy career. I also would like to use my social media accounts as a platform to educate patients on their own health. That way, it is easily accessible and they know the information is coming from a credible source.

What advice would you give to other medical students who may be thinking about venturing into the medical/science blogging world?

Go for it. It is an amazing way to connect with others in the field, document your journey, and show others what life as a medical student is like. It is also a great creative outlet and an amazing way to express yourself.

My main piece of advice is to only start something like this because it is something that you are passionate about and will enjoy doing. It takes up a lot of your time, especially if you are posting daily. Additionally, creating genuine content that your followers want to engage with takes a lot of thought, planning, and creativity.

How has your experience of being a medical student been so far?

My experience has been amazing so far. I absolutely love the MD program and could not be happier with my choice to attend the University of Toronto. The Foundations Curriculum and class schedule involve a lot of independent and small group learning, which allows students to have more free time for extracurriculars and self-care. I also love how everything we learn in a given week is related to the block we are in. For example, when we were in our cardiology block, our lectures, anatomy lab, CBL, and clinical skills sessions all involved the cardiac system. It is very helpful and makes learning easier. Aside from academics, I also really love living in Toronto. The city is incredibly diverse and full of excitement, so there is always something to see or somewhere new to explore.

Do you know what specialty you’d like to get into? 

I do not know exactly what specialty I want to pursue as of now, but I am really interested in women's health and sexual medicine. Right now, I am exploring the different ways I can pursue those interests and trying to discover which path best aligns with my values and goals.

Any words of wisdom for incoming students?

First of all, you should be incredibly proud of yourself because making it here is a huge accomplishment. Please enjoy the journey and savour your preclerkship years – they go by fast. Take time to travel, explore the city, spend time with your friends and family and do the things you love. You will not regret it. Always remember that perfection does not exist and that making mistakes is a part of the process. Finally, if you are ever feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, take a moment to remember why you started this journey and don’t ever feel ashamed to seek help if you need it.