Caleb Charlebois will be one of 64 new students beginning medical school this fall at the prestigious Northern Ontario School of Medicine, more commonly known as NOSM.

From his earliest days, Charlebois had dreams of being a doctor. With both his mother and older brother dedicating their careers to the healthcare industry as nurses, Charlebois knew his future lay in medicine. “It was a natural path for me,” he begins, smiling, proud of his accomplishment. “Being around them really led me to follow this path.” And volunteer work at the Algoma Residential Community Hospice (ARCH) only further solidified his decision.

Originally from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Charlebois now calls Sault Ste. Marie his home. The Superior Heights Collegiate and Vocational School graduate moved to the Sault in his early high school days and has been making a name for himself in the Northern Ontario community ever since.

In 2014, he began his tenure at Algoma University in the Honours Bachelor of Science in Biology program. He is slated to graduate with distinction this Saturday in the June 2018 Convocation ceremony.

From his earliest days, Charlebois became involved on campus, working alongside Dr. Jennifer Foote in her laboratory. He also joined the Algoma Thunderbirds soccer team, knocking out four years of eligibility with the squad as a centre- and right-back defenseman. In his first year with the team, he earned the coveted title of Rookie of the Year. He also received OUA and U Sports All-Academic honours throughout his student-athletic career.

In his second year, Charlebois earned summer employment with the Great Lakes Forestry Centre (GLFC), conducting aquatic research on Lake Sturgeon. It was here he was introduced to the idea of working for the Coast Guard. “While working at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre, I had to get my boating license and my radio license. We had people from the Coast Guard who were doing these licenses and told me about their summer job program. They encouraged me to apply for the following summer and I did.”

In the summer of 2017, Charlebois lived in British Columbia, as one of 30 summer students with the Coast Guard. “I worked in Victoria for two weeks and then near Tofino in a small fishing area for four more cycles. Basically, each crew had a 25-foot zodiac boat and would go on patrols from 8:00am – 5:00pm and any marine-related emergency we would respond to, such as oil spills, people in the water, missing persons, or anything that was close to the water, such as fires.” For Charlebois, this was his first extended period away from home.  

All of these experiences – and many more – helped his application to NOSM. “They’re looking for well-rounded applicants. They don’t want just book smarts. They want someone who is out working, getting experience, and making a difference in their community.”

Charlebois’ impressive 91 per cent average also aided his application chances. “I worked really hard to achieve that. It didn’t come easily. I put in a lot of studying and hours into my school work. I actually raised my average over the course of my degree at Algoma. I came in from high school with an 88 per cent average and brought it up in my last few years here.”

Through his summer employment opportunities, Charlebois was able to earn various first aid experience, leadership experience, and also worked with Indigenous communities. “When I worked with the fisheries, we went to Marathon and to Pic River First Nation and Batchewana First Nation. We worked with the [people] who were doing conservation there. They do things so traditionally there so it was really quite the honour to work alongside them and learn those techniques. Because of that experience, I really understand the need for more work and support in First Nations communities.”

With the Algoma Thunderbirds, Charlebois also participated in Indigenous activities, such as the renowned KAIROS Blanket Exercise.

“I think having these really specialized experiences played a big role in my success in getting into NOSM. NOSM is really interested in working with and supporting Indigenous communities. So to be able to put that on my application and to say that I studied at Algoma U, which has a large Indigenous curriculum, was a benefit.”

In his first year at NOSM, Charlebois will be completing a four-week placement in an Indigenous community.

Charlebois’ acceptance into NOSM on his first application to medical school is rare. So rare, in fact, that he is one of only a handful of Algoma U grads to do so. He’s also in an elite group who get accepted into medical school without having written the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). “I didn’t write the MCAT,” he admits. “NOSM doesn’t require it. Most people would have written the MCAT last summer for acceptance into fall 2018 programs. But because I went out west, I didn’t want to be studying the entire time I was in BC, so I decided to just apply to NOSM and hope for the best. If I didn’t get in, I would start studying and write the MCAT this year.”

With NOSM being the only medical school in Ontario that doesn’t require students to write the MCAT, Charlebois only applied there. He did, however, apply to various graduate programs as a fall-back. He earned acceptances to Queen’s University for a Master’s of Science in Anatomy and the University of Calgary for a bio-medical technology master’s degree.

“I’m still in shock about the whole thing. It was such a long shot to get into NOSM. I never imagined getting in on my first try. I’m very lucky and I am so incredibly happy.”

Charlebois will begin studies at NOSM’s Sudbury-based campus in September in the four-year medical doctor program. Upon graduation, he will have an MD but will not be able to practice. He will then complete a two-year family residency and then additional schooling and work to supplement his interests. At this point in time, he’s keeping his mind open to the various paths of medicine, but is leaning toward becoming a family doctor. “I really like the idea of balancing work and life, so I’m leaning more toward being a family doctor. They’re not on call 60 hours a week.”

He is eager, however, to stay in Northern Ontario, practicing medicine in the north.

Until he moves to Sudbury this fall, Charlebois is working in Dr. Isabel Molina’s lab as a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) funded student. In April, Charlebois completed his honours thesis under the supervision of Molina, where he compared different extraction methods for corn waxes. “It was a really good introduction to a full research project. I don’t think many undergrads get this kind of in-depth, hands-on experience. Sure there were a lot of frustrations involved, especially since I had some contamination happen in my research, but it taught me how to deal with those setbacks.”

And when setbacks did arise, Charlebois turned to his faculty for help. He credits the small class sizes and one-on-one interactions with faculty as a bonus to his undergraduate education. “At bigger universities you don’t get to know your professors like this. They wouldn’t know I was interested in going to medical school and help me get there. Here, they did just that. They wrote me incredible reference letters. They helped me every step of the way.”

Charlebois is eager to begin the next chapter of his life at NOSM, and isn’t nervous for the transition to medical school. “I think the experiences I had at Algoma will be very similar to NOSM. The size is comparable. There’s only 64 students in my class. They’re very specialized, kind of like Algoma. They’re both small and really hands-on. You’re part of this really special community. They’re unique in that sense. I think it’s going to be an easy transition for me. I think I’ve got an advantage.”

Algoma University would like to congratulate Charlebois on his success and wish him well at NOSM.