Feature: A shared journey, a shared dream

By Alexandra Burza, MMJC'19

With the demanding application process now behind them, and the challenging yet thrilling journey ahead, the Zendo brothers are thankful for the opportunity to chase their dream together.

Zayya Zendo and John Zendo, Medicine Class of 2024, were born just thirteen months apart. As young children, their shared bond deepened when their family immigrated to Canada from Syria, leaving persecution as members of the Assyrian minority ethnic group. Even upon arriving in London, John says, their parents were wary of trusting outsiders, relying only on their immediate circle for help navigating their new lives.

“But that didn’t hold for physicians,” he explained. “When my mom would take us to appointments, she could share the most sensitive and intimate information with complete trust that this person, who was a stranger, had our best interest at heart. That left a lasting impression.”

From the time they started school, Zayya fondly recalls both him and John enthusing about all things science and technology, and their parents’ best efforts to support opportunities for growing these interests.

“My parents would buy us science kits and software for computers that taught us anatomy. It may have been well beyond my scope of understanding, but it was so interesting to see the body at work and the nuanced detail of it captivated me,” Zayya said. “I wish we could give them honorary MDs along with the ones we will be receiving.”

Both brothers graduated with a Bachelor of Health Sciences from Western University before deciding to apply for medical school. They had their sights set on Schulich Medicine & Dentistry from the start, hoping to continue to support one another and stay close to their family.

As newcomers and first generation applicants, that support was invaluable, as they navigated the complex and unfamiliar road to competitive medical school applications. While their parents offered unwavering emotional support, logistically, the brothers felt they were on their own.

“The biggest hurdle is knowledge of the system. There’s so much you have to navigate as an applicant, and if you’re discovering all these elements as you’re going through it, there’s a likelihood you’ll make a mistake,” John said. “I didn’t know how to gain a realistic understanding of what it is to be a physician, I didn’t know how to logistically best prepare for the MCAT, or how to pay for it.”

“I learned there was a fund that could be used to help families fund the MCAT, but it was after I had already gotten into medical school,” Zayya said.

There were many experiences, such as overseas volunteer opportunities or extracurricular research experience, which are often touted in the medical school application process that they said were inaccessible, either due to limited financial resources or not having a network that could connect them with established physicians. They both appreciated how Schulich Medicine’s admission process broke that mold, and the inclusion of the autobiographical sketch allowed them to demonstrate their growth and capabilities beyond the conventional activities and accomplishments usually considered.

“It always felt like I was one step behind making a competitive application. I have to commend Schulich Medicine’s application process because it felt like I wasn’t just checking off boxes,” John explained. “It felt like I had as good a chance as any other applicant, simply because they were looking at the substance of my experiences.”

They vividly recall the month of waiting between writing the MCAT and the score release date, thankful to have had each other’s support in the process.

“It was gruelling. You start questioning the answers you put down and just having someone with you, it’s so comforting,” Zayya shared. “Despite all the uncertainty, we were never in it alone. Even during the process, when it felt like we had to figure out how to study for the MCAT, being able to share resources and information was crucial.”

Then came the news they were waiting for; John was accepted at Schulich Medicine's London campus, while Zayya was headed for the Windsor campus. Despite the global pandemic providing an unusual backdrop to the start of their medical training, little could dampen their excitement about finally arriving at their coveted destinations.

“We feel a lot of pride and excitement about the profession we are entering,” Zayya said.

“The pandemic brought health care to the forefront, and there have been so many developments in telemedicine and other areas, my mind begins to race about the opportunities ahead of us for making improvements and change as future physicians,” John added.

John and Zayya say they have been impressed by the welcome and support they have received from the professors, doctors and academic leadership in their programs, and already feel at home as their first semester draws to a close.

As they reflected on their journey so far, the brothers expressed their desire to help other newcomers, those with disadvantaged backgrounds and first-generation medical school applicants access resources, information and supports; to be the guides they themselves had needed.

While practically, they don’t know what their hopes for their future practices are, John said the one certainty is that they plan to live up to their family’s high regard for physicians.

“A good physician is someone who prioritizes the dignity of the person in front of him, and that’s who I want to be.”