May 7, 2018 - 4:45pm
When Dr. Rosendo Da Costa moved to Canada from India at the young age of 16 to study at VIU, culture shock took a heavy toll. At first, his grades suffered as he struggled to adjust to life in a very different country from where he grew up, but Da Costa found a welcoming, supportive environment at Vancouver Island University (VIU). After graduating in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts, Major in Psychology, he was accepted into the Atlantic School of Medicine. Da Costa did his training in Virginia and Chicago and then moved to Toronto, where he now works at two clinics and volunteers his time at a free medical clinic.
Tell us about yourself.
I left my hometown of Goa, India, alone at the age of 16 to pursue an undergraduate degree at VIU. I barely travelled within India, so travelling to another country all by myself was a huge, nerve-wracking accomplishment. As a new student, all alone in Canada, the culture shock took its toll on me on a personal level and my grades suffered. I was placed on academic probation in my first year of university, which was devastating, but thanks to the unending support and advice of my international student advisors and my professors, my grades improved and I made it to the Dean’s list in my final undergraduate year at VIU.
As a Psychology student, I studied disorders such as autism, Down’s syndrome and schizophrenia. Fascinated with the complexity of these disorders and the individuals affected, in my second year I started working as a Residential Support Worker at a group home in Nanaimo that supports individuals with mental illnesses and developmental delays. This experience gave me a greater appreciation of my own physical and mental health. It also taught me to manage high levels of stress while making critical decisions accurately and efficiently; a skill I use every day in my practise as a physician. I also learned to face challenges head on with determination and conviction.
But I still hesitated with my application to medical school. Some said it was a tough journey and only a few succeeded; others came right out and said I would never make it. I sought the advice of my international student advisors and mentors once again, which led me to join the Palliative Care Unit at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (NRGH) as a Hospice volunteer. Whether it was feeding, lending a sympathetic ear to a patient or supporting grieving family members, I knew I had it within me to withstand the challenges medical school never teaches you about.
Thanks to encouragement from my girlfriend (who is my wife today), my parents and my VIU professors, that following fall I applied to medical school and got in on my first attempt. My grades were not stellar, but my work and volunteer experience on and off campus were highly regarded by the admissions committee. The next few years studying medicine were amazing and hard at the same time, but my fervent drive to succeed was undoubtedly my strongest asset in getting to where I am today and accomplishing my lifelong dream of becoming a doctor.
What are you doing now?
I am currently working in two walk-in clinics in the Toronto area. In my free time I also volunteer as an assistant physician at a free medical clinic in Toronto that tends to the homeless, refugees and patients with no medical coverage in Canada. When possible, I also help families with young adults and children with physical disabilities and mental illnesses; something I loved doing throughout my undergraduate years at VIU.
How did what you learned at VIU help you do what you’re doing now?
I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, but getting there was easier said than done. VIU gave me the opportunities, skills, confidence and knowledge to grow as a young undergrad student into the mature person I am today. Thanks to the amazing support of my upper-level Psychology professors, my curiosity for medicine further deepened. Their open-door policy helped me understand the complexities of my coursework, further solidifying my urge to be a doctor. I volunteered as an international student peer helper, a student ambassador on campus and even worked as a work-op student gym attendant on campus. All these experiences gave me the confidence I needed to listen, speak and empathize with students in need; skills I use every day with my patients.
And you have another family member attending VIU?
My cousin, Megan Rebello, just started her first semester at VIU in January. She is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts, Digital Media Studies program.When completing her Grade 12 studies in Dubai, UAE, Megan told me she was interested in attending a university in Canada. I started telling her about my wonderful experiences at VIU and how this institution helped get me to where I wanted to be.
In summer 2017, Megan came to Canada for a family wedding and we discussed at length the pros, the cons and many of my personal experiences at Canadian universities. Four weeks later we were both on a flight to Nanaimo so she could explore first-hand what VIU and Vancouver Island had to offer. She instantly fell in love with the Island, the campus and, in her own words, “the surprisingly warm and extra-friendly professors and staff.” I was lucky to reconnect and introduce Megan to a few of the former and present International department staff members, my former professors and former co-workers on campus, who took the time to sit and talk to Megan about the advantages of being a part of the VIU family. She even had the opportunity to meet and talk to professors in the Media Studies program, which convinced her that she was making the right choice. That night when we got back home from touring Nanaimo, Megan had already filled out her VIU application.