Why Giving Matters

McGill Mentor Prescribes a New Career Path

May 26, 2015

For doctors, education is a long process. And for some, the route to MD is not exactly a straight path.

Growing up in Saskatchewan, Alex Dyck, BMus’10, was always encouraged to pursue his many talents. “Music was one of those,” says the 27-year-old, who first pulled out the piano bench 20 years ago. “I came to McGill with eyes for nothing else. It was a no-brainer.”

Once arrived, Dyck excelled. He was voted Music Undergraduate Students’ Association president. He was elected to McGill’s Senate. He played principal keyboard for the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. He was a Quebec finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. With so many interests so well fulfilled, “rather than getting narrower,” he recalls, “to my surprise, my interests only grew broader at McGill.”

Nearing graduation, and as the first in his family to attend university, Dyck felt it was important to seek out career guidance at Career Planning Services (CaPS). There, advisor Jan Bottomer recommended the McGill Mentor Program.

Founded in 1995, the program pairs students with more accomplished alumni, usually for four months, but longer if both sides wish. In the partnership they establish, mentor and mentee determine how often to meet. It’s not a job placement service, but a tool for students to seek career-path advice from successful and experienced McGill alumni.

Dyck was matched with Tim Brodhead, BA’64, at the time President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. He recalls their meetings “began more formally in Tim’s office, but gradually relaxed over time.” Between meetings, they kept in touch by email.

Dyck drew upon Brodhead’s experience and his wide networks as an established professional. “When he recommended books to read, I read them. When he recommended people to meet, I tried my best to connect with them in person. In the end, the effect of our relationship was multiplied by the various exceptional professionals he introduced me to.”

These discussions and connections led to a marketing internship with Canada’s National Ballet School. A great experience, but Dyck was still looking broadly. And he was still in touch with Brodhead.

“When we talked, usually the one talking was me. Rather than give advice, he tended to reveal it. He would guide me more with questions than answers. And that was exactly what I needed, and what a lot of people in that position need – not to be told what to do, or where to look, but to realize for themselves what they’re looking for.”

Through this process and their shared interests in both the arts and health care, Dyck says he realized “medicine was going to be a good choice for someone who doesn’t get tired of learning.”

It’s a career switch that many academically minded musicians often make, he says, as music and medicine both involve performance, careful listening and attention to non-verbal cues. “Every day a patient expresses something to me without saying anything, and I love being able to notice those things. I guess that would be the art of medicine.”

Now in his fourth year of medical school at the University of Saskatchewan, Dyck hopes to become an ear, nose and throat surgeon. And he knows his McGill mentor’s support was instrumental in helping him make that connection. “To be able to start your career off with someone guiding you from the sidelines and really cheering you on is such a gift.”

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