6 Reasons I’d Never Live on Rex Nettleford and 1 Reason I Would

Disclaimer: This was written back when I used to live on campus; I dug it out of my drafts folder for posting at the time of year when people are thinking about where to live.

Rex Nettleford Hall of Residence on the UWI Mona campus was once the crème de la crème. Everyone who was anyone wanted to live there and everyone who was someone did. But Rex celebrated their tenth anniversary last year with flagging spirits and waning enthusiasm. The torch of hypeness has been passed on to the newcomers Towers (Elsa Leo Rhynie Hall) and New Postgrad (Marlene Hamilton Hall).

But even in the heyday of Rexan fortitude, I still wouldn’t have wanted to stay there. Here are six reasons why.

1. The hall fees are not the most economical. Last year, the 9 month stay on the 900 strong hall costed $214,120. (Seacole’s single room fees by comparison: $180,200).

hallfees
Hall fees 2013-2014 by Hall and Room Type

2. Hot water depends on the weather. Rex’s water heaters are solar powered, meaning no hot water if the sun don’t shine. I live and breathe hot water. Maslov left it off his hierarchy by accident. Seacole’s hot water is like the U.S. Postal Service: sun, rain, sleet or snow, I will always be toasty in the shower.

3. The rooms are SO TINY. A Rex room holds a single bed, a closet, a desk and a tiny shelf, all touching edges. It’s about half the size of my room on Seacole, and I’m not even exaggerating for the purposes of this list.

4. The laundry has opening and closing hours. How do you beat the crowd? You don’t. The freedom to do laundry at 2AM is on the Bill of Human Rights. In the fine print. Trust me on this. I’ll be making an independent inquiry.

5. The walls are paper thin. Privacy is a concept. On a flat, everyone always knows what everyone else is doing. Listening to Vibes Kartel? I can sing along with the lyrics. Using the bathroom? I can hear you pooping. That kind of intimacy is. . . undesirable.

6. 900 strong. Rex has always boasted the largest residence of any other hall on campus – claiming to be able to house 900 students. I’m pretty sure this number has dwindled over the years because their milkshake no longer brings all the boys to the yard, but they still house an impressive number of people. Which makes me distinctly uncomfortable. I’m not the biggest fan of large crowds so the 200 or so girls that live on Seacole feel more like a family than anything else.

Despite all the negatives (which I suppose could be positives to someone somewhere), there is one thing Rex has over Seacole*:

1. You only share amenities with 7 other people. I would gladly give up the 30 girls to a kitchen/bathroom aspect of Seacole life for Rex’s controlled 8-person chaos.

*The fact that my boyfriend lives on Rex almost made the list, but I realized that wouldn’t have been a plus to anyone else but me.

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For Shari, who asked about WJC

What are some other things you liked that Mona Western had to offer, that Mona didn’t? (pro/cons of both campuses).

You guys, this is my absolute favourite topic (barring Doctor Who, Jane Austen, The Bloggess, and also right now Hozier).

The Western Jamaica Campus was like a second home to me. I loved the people, the campus and the atmosphere; I am hopelessly biased. But I will try to give you some amount of objective information (don’t take my word as gospel, guys).

Starfish
That time we found a starfish at the beach.

Disclaimer: This post is written based on my rose-coloured memories of life at WJC some 3+ years ago. The Todd just reminded me that life at WJC was actually not all that awesome.

We had to fight for some basic requirements (good sized classroom, proper streaming, actual anatomy specimens), and a lot of the time we were doing the best we could with what we had. What made it easier to bear was the relaxed, ready-to-help atmosphere of the western campus and the gorgeous, gorgeous surroundings.

wave goodbye

Additionally, things might have changed for better or for worse. You can get up to date information on WJC happenings from their Facebook page or on their blog, The WJC Insider.

Let’s get into that pro/con list.

WJC vs Mona

WJC Mona
Class sizes small – 20-30 people Class sizes HUGE – 200-400 people
Student:specimen and student:teacher ratio relatively good Brand new anatomy lab with lots of space and small group sessions
Tutors are (usually) readily available Lecturers have dedicated office hours, more students to compete with
Lectures are all streamed via network that might not work Lectures live or streamed depending on lecture theatre
Consultants teach anatomy Mostly residents and anatomists teach anatomy
Have to travel to Kingston for major labs No travelling required
Small, close-knit group of people Sprawling campus; easy to disappear
Breathtaking view of the Bay/beach/airport Mountains. Sometimes cold.
Hall of residence has a pool Campus pool that is currently out of service
Some clubs, some diversity of students Wide variety of clubs, wide range of nationalities etc.
The beach is RIGHT THERE. Liguanea is right there?
Less social events, almost no night life (except Hip Strip) Everything happens in Kingston. No, seriously.

WJC actually seems to come off worse in the comparison (sadface) but again I’m not exactly a valid or reliable judge (I’m actually a notoriously unreliable judge – ask anyone). If there are other specific concerns you have about either campus, feel free to post them in the comments or even call the campus of interest (I don’t have all the answers, guys, sorry) and share their response here.

Much love,

Robyn

For Christiane, who asked a Really Big Question

Dear Robyn,

I am from Trinidad and I got accepted into medical school at Mona. Could you tell me all that I need to know concerning medical school and how to care for myself while I am in Jamaica? Tell me how you managed because this is a new experience for me and I could use all the help and advice I can get.

Dear Christiane,

First off, congratulations on getting into medical school! (Or condolences, depending on how long you’ve been following this blog).

I want you to know that there is no simple answer to your questions. Five years into medical school and twenty-odd years of living in Jamaica and I’m still figuring most of this stuff out. A lot of your experiences here will be trial- and trial- and trial-and-error because they will likely be very unique experiences. (It is best to embrace this fact from now).

The best I can do is give you a few sweeping generalizations. (If you would like more specific answers, please leave specific questions in the comments)

I don’t know where to begin so I’m giving you your very own blog post (yay!) for people to comment on and share their own bits of advice. My hope is that this will turn into a giant crowd-sourced repository of advice for surviving and thriving medical school at UWI Mona (your place to shine!) much like my other (massively supported, I love you guys) post on medical school. (I will love you guys even if there is no support on this post).

I’ll kick-start the discussion with what I’m hoping are the starts of answers to your very valid, questions and share the links to some posts where I’ve gone in depth on a few topics.

New experiences are scary! And exciting! There’s so much potential, so much could go wrong; you want to run towards it with your arms wide open or hide with your teddy bear in a blanket fort (the teddy does not judge). I understand your need to feel prepared, but there’s no possible way to prepare for everything. What follows is my (hopeful) guide to keeping you alive and reasonably sane.

Medical School

See my (mostly) comprehensive post here: What is UWI medical school like?

Generally speaking, medical school = university + dead bodies and loads of studying.

Aside from the dead bodies, it’s pretty much like any other science major. Get used to the smell of formalin, and studying all the time. If studying all the time is your bag, congrats! If not, you will need to do some degree of adjusting.

First year med students hit the ground running with the sheer volume of information they’re expected to absorb and regurgitate, and the sad part is you will forget most of it. Later on in your 4th and final years some of it will actually start to make sense. Accept this fact from now.

Keep yourself healthy. This means physically, emotionally and mentally. Eat right and get some kind of exercise – foster the good habits early, or you will end up being the intern with a stomach ulcer who collapses on the job (true story).

Have appropriate outlets for your emotions; suicide is a very real danger for people in this career. Some/most med students study hard and party harder as a way of stress-relief. Find your stress-reliever and hold on to it with both hands (and feet, and your teeth too. Don’t let that fucker go).

Medical school is very self-directed; what you put in is what you get out. You should have a reasonable idea of what you want and what kind of doctor you want to be. The guiding light in med school is not passing exams, it’s being a clinician. You’re going to need to prioritize your activities (academic and co-curricular) according to the type of person you want to be when you graduate.

That sounds a little heavy.

My point is, when you’re confronted with decisions that seem hard or information that seems pointless (a lot of it will seem pointless in first and second year, it’s hard to tell the difference) the choices you make now will influence what kind of doctor you are five years down the line.

I’m not telling you to stay in the anatomy lab until midnight every night (unless that’s what you want to do – no judgment there), just be aware of the difference between your short-term wants and your long-term wants.

And make friends. Making friends in medical school is awesome. You need people to get your weird med school jokes, and to commiserate about how horrible this all is and why didn’t you just do business.

Taking Care in Jamaica

Jamaica is pretty much the same as everywhere else, except slightly scary and dirty and people harass you if you’re not from here. So, pretty much the same as everywhere else.

Stay clean, keep hydrated and don’t be an obvious target*. If you need to eat, bear in mind that food is expensive here (blame the IMF and our sliding dollar). If you need somewhere to live, you can read my post on student housing.

Hang out with people who don’t do medicine (you will need the break). Living on hall is a good way to meet those people. Get involved! University is a much more fulfilling experience when you’re involved in things you’re passionate about with people who are similarly passionate.

Something I wish I had known – you can do whatever you want as a medical student, especially in first and second year. Med school is not an amputation of your life outside of medicine. You can write songs, start a charity, go to Literature classes, join a professional dance company. If it’s your passion – go for it!

I hope I managed to answer at least some small part of your questions.

Much love,

Robyn

**

*Not being an obvious target = keep your wits about you, read all the campus security bulletins/advice, trust your instincts (unless you have bad instincts, in which case I would suggest not trusting your instincts). 

**

Advice from my classmates include:

First, would be not to worry about getting all the books that are required. The library is reliable and you will meet fellow students that will help you, so travel light if you can. Always have a working phone with credit. Take time to enjoy what the island has to offer, and be balanced with work, family and friends.

And of course. . .

Don’t. Go. 

Run as far away as possible.

Advice Across the Board

(No more classes, no more books / No more teacher’s dirty looks. In celebration of the end of my training, I’m sharing tidbits of advice from the last six years of my life. Because there’s no advice like unsolicited advice).

What I Wish Someone had Told Me

Before I started Medicine . . .

Stay in the Arts, create yourself, establish boundaries and priorities, travel, push through the fear and conquer the unknown. Own the unknowable. Get advice from as many people as possible about how to do what you want to do, not just about the best thing for you to do. Stick to your guns.

In first and second year . . .

Pay more attention in Anatomy class. Actually, forget that. You were probably better off break dancing at the back of the room when no one was paying attention. Study just enough to pass your exams, real medicine won’t start for another two years. Anatomists and physiologists are not real doctors, but they can still fail you. It gets better. It does.

In third year . . .

Read the small books and commit them to memory – the OHCM is going to follow you for the rest of your life. Do not ever trust the administration to get things right. Have at least five white jackets to start with, add more as necessary. Spend your time on Paediatrics learning Paediatrics, not feeding and consoling fussy babies. Switch consultants if you have to. Don’t lose your enthusiasm for participating in clinical duties; pace yourself. Don’t assume it’s always going to be this exciting because it. won’t. be.

In fourth year . . .

Leave UHWI every chance you get. Deliver your elective assessment to the Dean’s office yourself; no one is going to do it for you. Give up on ENT classes from early (you’ll only sleep through them); spend all your time reading instead. Pay more attention to ECGs on Emergency Medicine. Pick the rural places for community health; the people are nicer. Do not start the habit of calling ‘Empathy point!’ every time a student says something supportive during a history/counselling station. Read more Radiology than you think is necessary.

Start MBBS prep from now – find a study group you’re comfortable with, who moves at your pace. Get organized with PPQs and lectures and notes from the graduating class. Do it now so you don’t have so much to do later.

In fifth year . . .

Prepare for each clerkship like it’s the final exam. Take really good notes on everything – that way you can revise your notes and not the whole textbook. Ignore the consultant who tells the third years not to end up like you. No guilt-tripping about your study habits. As early as possible, ensure the Dean’s office has all your elective forms. Spend less time in the classroom and more time assisting at procedures or reading on your own.  Keep a tight hold on the small books (Surgical Recall, OHCM, Toronto Notes).

Medical school drags its feet when you’re stuck in the middle or at the beginning, but when you look back from the end of the road you fully appreciate the whirlwind/ thunderstorm/ cacophony of experiences you’ve lived through. It is a lot to live through but you can survive it; you can even do it well, if you try hard enough.

UWI Bites Off More than They Can Chew (What Else is New?)

2015 will see the graduation of the largest medical class the University of the West Indies has ever produced. In the face of dwindling economic resources and rising costs of health care the 2015 cohort is a case of too many crabs and not enough barrels.

Last year the government struggled to find positions for the new batch of interns, having to stretch the usual quota of four basic rotations in internship year to include sub-specialties. This year, we have almost twice as many students graduating, provided we all pass final MBBS (and given our propensity to surpass the expectations of our administrators it’s very likely we all will). It’s begging the question: what are they going to do with us?

Rumours abound of strategies the government is trying to put in place to catch us all. But the catching will be clumsy if the rumours are to be believed. Some people murmur that a number of interns will be deferred from taking up posts until January of the following year. Others whisper that a shift system will be implemented allowing each intern to work for eight hours a day – this comes with the abolition of duties and (distressingly) the abolition of duty pay. But it’s all he said, she said, Chinese telephone.

Then there is the idea of the flexi-week. Recently decried by the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, the flexi-week is a modification of the 40 hour work week that would allow employees and employers to come to individualized agreements on the distribution of working hours. The government wanted to implement this bill on April 1 but JMDA cried foul, admonishing Parliament for not holding discussions with key stake-holders (namely, doctors).

It is strange that on the cusp of entering the workforce, so much of the dialogue about the changes affecting that workforce is happening over our heads. We have a right to information that will affect how we live, work and do business in the upcoming years and it isn’t fair to withhold this information on the basis that we have not yet passed exams (if that is indeed the basis). Transparency is key or else, much like our transition through medical school, our transition into internship will be a rude awakening.

No one in my year batch knows just what awaits us on July 1, 2015. There are so many questions that need to be answered. Where will we be placed? How many hours will we have to work? How will we be paid? How will we afford to repay our loans?

UWI answers these questions with: We need a new hall of residence. We need a new faculty building. We need a new administrative building. We need an extension to the university hospital. As long as the input (students) generates revenue, the by-product (doctors) can muddle along as it pleases. Or doesn’t please, as the case may be.

Can we have the health ministry intervening to put a cap on the number of medical students the UWI can accept in any one year? There are so many disadvantages to large medical classes it would take an entire post to enumerate them all. Suffice to say the risk far outweighs the benefit.

Housing at UWI – where do you turn?

This post is about homelessness. No, scratch that. It’s about finding a home. Not the metaphorical place where your heart is, just a roof and two walls where you will be (relatively) safe and sheltered.

In some ways I have so much experience figuring out where to live and in some ways I have none at all. It depends on who you talk to. Whatever amount of advice I have I’ll be dispensing here, and you can use it as you see fit. Just to be clear, this is about finding college accommodations for students specifically for limited time periods, though I suppose my methods could be applied to more grown up living needs as well. You’ll see for yourself.

Real estate is such a scary topic. At least it was for me. And I guess it’s scary for any high school graduate who has decided to leave home and pursue the university dream but who (gosh darnit) just couldn’t get on hall. More on that in a second. I like to break down scary topics into smaller steps. Bite-sized chunks like

  • Options
  • Where to go for help and
  • How to do it on your own

Your two most obvious options for housing when you’re a university student are, of course: on campus and off campus. As cool and exciting as hall life seems, the reality is that only a small percentage of university students actually live there. The majority commute from home or other places either by choice or because they couldn’t afford the fees/got kicked off hall.

UWI (it’s always UWI on this blog, sorry UTECH) has so many halls of residence. And they keep adding more. The quick and dirty list in order of awesomeness (uh, personal preference? More detailed assessment will probably follow when I muster up the research effort):

  • New Postgrad (Marlene Hamilton Hall)
  • Towers (Elsa Leo Rhynie Hall)
  • Mary Seacole
  • A. Z. Preston
  • Rex Nettleford
  • Taylor, Irvine, Chancellor

That’s eight (well seven, MSH and Chancellor are gender-specific) fantastic moderately livable places to choose from all within walking distance of your 8AM and 6PM classes.

There are many advantages to living on hall. It’s also a lot safer to get used to an unfamiliar city when “home” is somewhere that it matters to people when you don’t show up.

advantages

But for the rest of us who love jumping in and getting our feet wet, who get a thrill from adult-type independence, there is the off campus route.  Be the master of your own affairs! Pay those bills! Cook those meals! And yes, invite whoever the hell you want to invite over for however long you want (subject to the terms set out by your landlord/lady).

For those of us thinking about living off campus, this is where you start.

The UWI Lodgings Office

I cannot stress how helpful this place is. It took some warming up to their methods (and you better not be in a rush) but they’re great at matching you to a place that fits your budget. Added bonus: they vet all the accommodations that they recommend to students. They’re big on location, so they won’t drop you somewhere in the middle of Tavern Drive or Mona Commons without warning. You’re far more likely to find a Mona Heights address if you go this route (whether or not this is up your alley).

Flyers, Flyers everywhere.

Read the noticeboards. All of them. All the time. I have gotten so good at this that Kat takes a firm grip on my elbow whenever we pass one, just so that I won’t slow down. Seriously. There’s always some place for rent. Also? Know your crowd. The apartments advertising at the Faculty of Medicine are not the same as the ones advertised in the Faculty of Humanities.

Google is Your Friend

Once upon a time I used to think that nothing we ever did in Jamaica was easy to find on the internet. I still think that, for the most part, but a lot of the time I am pleasantly surprised. Don’t be shy about searching the websites of real estate agencies for rentals you want. Something might be out there. Pitch in with a friend or two and rent a fully furnished house. (They are not all heart attackingly expensive). Real estate agents do open houses on Youtube now. It’s a brave new world out there, kids.

Useful Websites:

Know Your Own Mind

Before you go house-hunting it’s good to have a list of questions to ask your prospective landlord/lady. Simple stuff like whether bills are included in the rent, if there are frequent water or power outages in the area, if there is wifi, if they have any rules for tenants (most will). Think about your own lifestyle and what you can and cannot put up with.

Just Go For It

The way to feel like you actually know what you’re doing is just to do it. Call the number on the ad, go to the places you want to see, ask questions, take pictures, consult with everyone you know. For every 20 places you inquire about at least one might be sublimely perfect for you in a way you will probably appreciate more when you have been house-hunting for nearly two years. Or maybe they will all suck. But either way you’re getting knowledge that is pretty much invaluable to you as an adult.

Because that’s what you are now: a rent paying, meal-cooking, house-hunting adult. So go out there are be wonderfully, smashingly, amazingly terrible at it.

I came, I saw, I survived (4th Year Part 2)

You didn’t think we were done, did you?

Image not mine.
The offsite clerkships conclude with Ophthalmology (10 weeks), Anaesthesia (5 weeks) and Orthopaedics (5 weeks).

Ophthalmology

Goals:

  1. See/do every last thing on your procedure card. Seriously. They will send you back to the clinic to see/do things.
  2. Learn when to refer (all the time).

Opthalmology at KPH was a fair experience (I’d give it a 5/10. Anaes gets an 8). There are a lot of patients but you don’t really get much guidance. The lectures are good but the consultants disappear right after and the residents are always too busy to teach. Bonus: they will tell you which patients have pathologies that you can see.

Ophthalmology at Cornwall was my saving grace. The consultant takes you around the clinic on your scheduled day, looking for interesting conditions, and she teaches ophthalmoscopy technique at the same time.

The bonus of UHWI is that the clinic is more organized with specific patients attending at specific times (eg. retina clinic) but the residents are not as . . . easy-going as those elsewhere.

Penultimately. . .

Anaesthesia

Image not mine.

Goals:

  1. Read all the time so you can present your topics to the residents (the only way to learn)
  2. Learn how to manage an airway
  3. Know Basic Life Support like the back of your hand. Know it better than the lyrics to your favourite guilty pleasure song.

I did Anaesthesia at KPH and liked it. Everybody was willing to listen (on Anaes they don’t teach, you have to read up a topic and talk about it) and the consultants were nice. Probably because there were a lot of them so no one felt too pressured (take notes, every other specialty). There is a wealth of OT experience because KPH is basically surgery central. As long as the elevator is working. Seriously, can we get some foreign investors working on our hospitals instead of our roads? At least if accidents happen on the bad roads the victims will have somewhere to go.

And lastly:

Orthopaedics/Ophthalmology

Image not mine.

Goals:

  1. Learn the theory behind the common orthopaedic problems
  2. Learn the practical management of the same i.e. reducing, casting, splinting fractures etc.

I did Orthopaedics at (can you guess?) Cornwall. It was a half-and-half experience for me because despite getting good lectures and clinical teaching, there wasn’t a wide variety of patients presenting during our stint. That and you have to remember to go looking for procedures. Nobody’s sitting around waiting for you to come put a plaster on them. Unfortunately. But the residents and consultants were more than willing to teach and grill you to death and talk you out of ears.

Bonus: Orthopods, as a hazard of the trade, are really, really good looking. That is total objectification, but I’m just saying – if you’re a girl (or guy, no judgement) who’s into shoulders and arms this clerkship is the ultimate viewing experience.

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Hope you liked the mini-series. (See Part One). If you found it useful (or amusing), please (do me a favour and) leave a comment saying so. Feedback makes one feel so appreciated.

We’ll do this again when I graduate med school. :)