Your frequently asked questions...
Dimpi: There are two airlines which service Dominica: American Eagle and . . . what's that other one?
Dimpi: Right, Liat. You can also fly in to two airports: Melville Hall and . . . what's that other one?
Dimpi: Exactly. Most people fly into Melville Hall which is approximately 45 minutes from campus.
Darren: Transports are available for about $25 EC at the airport or $15 US if you call in advance through the housing office.
Dimpi: Alternatively, you can arrange a ride through the bookstore for the unbelievably low price of $3000 US.
Darren: One of the first things I did once I arrived here was set up a bank account at the National Commercial Bank in Portsmouth. There are other banks (Barclay's) but the NCB is the only one with an ATM on campus.
Dimpi: NCB is the way to go. Everyone I know has an account there. Make sure you get down there right away because it takes about a week before ATM cards are ready.
Darren: FYI . . . $2.68 EC is the equivalent of $1 US. $1.8 EC is the equivalent of $1 CDN.
Dimpi: And $1 US is the equivalent of 3.97 Polish zlotys.
Dimpi: You really, really, really DON'T need to buy all those books that are on your book list. Really. I used a sum total of 4 books during first semester:
1. Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy (the money book)
2. Tabor's Head & Neck Anatomy
3. Meisenberg's Medical Biochemistry
4. Junqueira's Basic Histology
Tabor and Meisenberg are instructors here and tend to follow their texts very closely. Some folks also bought Moore's Essentials of Clinical Anatomy. I checked it out from the library and found it quite useful but, ironically, not essential. If you're worried about not having the other books, keep these things in mind:
- The class handouts are outstanding (especially in anatomy). Coupled with Netter's Atlas and some time in lab, you should be fine.
- All books are available in multiple copies in the library.
- If you come here and decide that you need a certain book, you can just go the bookstore and buy it (yes, they have first semester books). Or, even better, you can buy books from older students. We're talking $70 books for $10 here. Trust me on this...you won't have trouble finding books once you're here (and you'll save A LOT of money).
Darren: I found that the Board Review Series (BRS) of book were a good reference for the simple reasons that they present the material in a clear concise manner with relevant multiple choice questions at the end of each chapter. I also recommend buying books second hand. Ones in good condition are easily available for a fraction of the price of new books. Just hang out in front of the library at the beginning or end of a semester and you are bound to run into someone wearing a trench coat filled with all sorts of medical texts.
Darren: The buildings are very "functional" on the outside. Inside, however, all classrooms are state of the art. There are TV monitors and speakers throughout the rooms so that even at the back of the class, you'll catch everything that's going on at the front. Most people study either in the library, in one of several empty classrooms, or at home. By studying at school I have found that my electrical bill is much less since I don't really use my AC as much. The gross anatomy lab is very good once you get used to the smell of formaldehyde. I'm still not used to it.
Dimpi: Ross is pretty good about putting money back into the school and improving the campus. There is always some kind of construction going on. Recently they built a new dining area near the food court and poured a new driveway in front of the library. The new rec center is up and running and the basketball and tennis courts were just resurfaced and referenced. They even got around to breaking ground on the new gym recently.
Computing & Internet
Darren: Students aren't required to have computers but it is nice to have if you already own one. I wouldn't recommend rushing out to buy one since there are computer labs on campus. I'm told that students in third through fifth semester find having a laptop particularly helpful for reviewing pathology and writing reports.
Dimpi: I've gotta give mad props to Doc Ross for the Internet facilities. We're talking 24 Pentium II 400s with 19 inch monitors. The connection isn't exactly top speed but it's definitely acceptable for e-mail services.
Darren: There's no way I'm typing out all those classes.
Dimpi: Me either. Let's just give 'em a link.
Darren: The customs people tend to dole out large taxes on conspicuous electronic items that have high resale value here. Therefore I would recommend avoiding bringing large stereos and stuff like that in favor of portable/compact CD players with small speakers. The smaller (read: easier to hide) the better.
Dimpi: Remember that the customs officials are people too. They can charge you as little as nothing if you are courteous and as much as the value of the object (in Dominica) if you are not. Politeness will go a long way towards getting through customs with a minimum of hassle.
Darren: I hear full body cavity searches are a popular.
Dimpi: That's all bad. :-(
Dimpi: As long as you don't walk around butt nekkid, you're basically okay. Most students wear shorts and t-shirts to class. Be advised though, the library is colder than the frozen tundra of Antarctica. Bring a sweatshirt or two if you prefer to keep blood circulating in your extremities while studying.
Darren: Third, fourth, and fifth semesters include patient contact. As such, "professional dress" is required. I can't wait to see Dimpi in his woolen kilt.
Darren: Electricity here is 220V and 50 Hz. Transformers and adapters are always a good idea.
Dimpi: Some of the newer buildings (like mine), will have dual electricity; that is, we have both 110 and 220 outlets at my place. It makes things much easier but, unfortunately, I think my situation is more the exception than the norm.
Darren: From semesters 1 to 4 you will have a mini-exam every month or so. In first semester, each mini-exam has 3 separate sections: 35 histology/embryology questions, 40 gross anatomy, and 30 biochem. You have about 2 hours and 10 minutes (which is usually plenty) to answer all of these multiple-choice questions. For Gross anatomy and histo/embryo there are also two lab practical exams each which encompass identification of slides and anatomical structures. You definitely have to keep up with the material to succeed on the mini exams. The workload here is very heavy. That shouldn't scare you because it is typical of most medical schools (from what I hear).
Dimpi: We are allowed to keep our mini-exams (but not the final) and answer keys are posted a couple of days after the exam. There is an opportunity to contest questions that the class may feel were unfair or poorly worded. The fate of a so-called "unfair" question is in the hands of the course director. In some cases, additional answers are accepted. In other cases, the question is omitted completely.
Dimpi: As is the case with most schools, failing here is bad. Fail one or two classes and you have to repeat the entire semester, including any classes you may have passed the first time around. Fail all three classes in a given semester and they may kick you out altogether.
Darren: It's worth noting that you can only repeat a semester once. Fail it twice and it's all over. Furthermore, failing three different semesters is grounds for bye bye.
Darren: It's possible to get as high as 100 % and as low as you want to go. At this school 70% is a pass. This is the lowest guaranteed pass. It is possible to pass a given class with lower than a 70% average, but you put your fate in the hands of the admissions committee and the curve that they set.
Dimpi: Typically, the results for a given exam are posted within the week. You are given a percentage mark, an average for all exams, and a separate class rank for each course. At the end of the semester however, you will never receive a score for your final lab practicals or the final itself. Following these end-of-semester exams, everyone is simply given a letter grade: A, B, C, (or the other one). Typically, about 15-25% of your classmates (in any given semester) won't make the cut.
Darren: Ah yes...the joys of stomach sickness.
Dimpi: Or as I like to call it, the 'rhea.
Darren: Despite all the precautionary measures we all take, you're bound to get sick once in a while.
Dimpi: Once in while? I have had it for 5 months!
Darren: Okay, enough potty humor. For your health needs, there is a walk-in clinic on campus and a pharmacy in Portsmouth. The clinic is proficient in handling such a wide range of maladies as blisters and paper cuts as well as infections by Necator Americanus.
Dimpi: For anything more serious than that, you will most likely be airlifted to a neighboring island and/or Puerto Rico. I once heard that there was this guy who . . . uh oh, bathroom break . . . gotta go.
Darren: And/or Puerto Rico?
Darren: It is easy to find passable-to-really nice (by North American standards) housing for $250 to $800 US per month based on a 1-bedroom apartment. Having a roommate definitely brings the cost down. Most apartments are within a 15-minute walk from the school on what are called the Lizard and Banana Trails. Be sure to check out the Portsmouth Beach Hotel (adjacent to campus) when looking for places to live.
Dimpi: Rent decreases exponentially as you get further and further away from school. Okay, maybe not exponentially, but a lot. I live about 10 minutes from campus (uphill both ways) and my rent is butt cheap. We're talking $400 a month with cable TV, swimming pools, movie stars. (Hills, that is.)
Darren: The "housing people" generally arrange to pick you up at the airport and bus you around to several available places. This system seems to work well so it is not necessary to pre-arrange housing prior to coming down.
Dimpi: Many students ask about laundry services in their first week on the island. While few places have laundry machines, laundry services are available. You can expect to pay about $15 EC per week unless you have more clothes than Imelda Marcos.
Dimpi: Ah yes, the insects. I once came home to find a giant flying cockroach in my kitchen. I swear, it was the size of a small bird.
Darren: Flying roaches aren't the only problem. Since this is a tropical island, that means there is standing water everywhere. That means mosquitoes. While you can buy bug repellent such as OFF! and Cutter on the island, it may be a good idea to bring a can or two.
Dimpi: Here's a tip: I've found that the mosquitoes will leave me alone if I refrain from showering for a few days. Really, they won't come near me.
Darren: Yeah, but neither will anyone else.
Dimpi: I don't think I've turned on the stove since I've been here. I'm at school all day and usually just grab a bite to eat on campus. While the selection of food is relatively limited, the food itself is not bad at all. Most students visit a food court on campus that has affectionately been dubbed "The Shacks." I'm a strict vegetarian (no meat, no dairy, no vegetables, no water) and have found no problems sticking to my diet here.
Darren: I'm a strict carnivore and I generally avoid cooking because it is just as cheap and much quicker to eat at the shacks. These are a collection of about 10 different stalls where you can buy fresh fruit, drinks and hot meals. There is everything from BBQ chicken, Mexican, fresh fish, vegetarian/vegan and pizza. You'll be running from chicken and rice by the end of the first semester. Just wait! In your first few days here try Coconuts, Blue Bay and/or Sango's (my personal fav) for dinner.
Insects & Food
Dimpi: Be prepared to share your food with the flies.
Darren: Buy stock in Immodium.
Darren: As with any university, Ross has agreeable and disagreeable ones. For the most part, I've been impressed with the quality of teaching among the first semester lecturers. They all have first class credentials from good US, Canadian, and UK schools. Just about the entire anatomy department is from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, which is one of the best Canadian med schools.
Dimpi: It's unbelievable how many Canadian professors they have here, eh. They keep spelling things with extra o's and u's. If I see "oesophagus" or "colour" one more time, I think I'll go crazy. And by the way, sarcomeres shouldn't have "zed" lines.
Darren: I will not dignify that drivel with a colourful response.
Darren: Damn Dimp, I'm tired of typing all this stuff. My fingers are worn down to the bone.
Dimpi: Do you want me to type for a while?
Darren: Okay, go for it. . . . we've only got a few more topics to go.
Dimpi: So, like, uhhh . . . there are lots of learnin stuf here and stuff. Ummmm . . . learning . . . uhhh . . .learn . . .
Darren: That's the last time you're touching the keyboard Mr. I come from the shallow end of the gene pool. The Anatomy Learning Resource Center has models (cute ones), bones, x rays and anatomy videos for your viewing pleasure. The said videos are especially useful for head and neck anatomy.
Dimpi: Is pathological, no?
Darren: The Anne Ross Library and Learning Resource Center has everything that you'll need as far as books and periodicals. It's air conditioned so that studying in the back area or "fish bowl" is a good alternative to running up your electrical bill at home. Students also make use of learning software such as Slice of Life, A.D.A.M., and various other software packages.
Dimpi: In the main room of the library there's a clock shaped like an owl. NEVER EVER LOOK DIRECTLY INTO ITS EYES.
Darren: Umm, yeah...whatever you say. By the way, the library is open until midnight every night and is open 24 hours a day beginning one week before each exam.
Darren: With regard to fine dining and white sandy beaches, you may want to try another island school. This is a great place to study because there are very few other things to do. The island is what took (and is still taking) some time to get used to.
Dimpi: Expect the worst and you will only be pleasantly surprised. This place is really not as bad as some people make it out to be. It all depends on how often you get laid and your marks.
Darren: Down the street from the bank is Dominica Cable & Wireless. I pay the equivalent of $15 US per month for phone service and $20 per month for Internet service from home. As a cheaper alternative, the library has a computer lab, which you can use for email or surfing the web. AOL is also widely used there. I would highly recommend that you get a calling card with which you can charge all of you long distance calls. Charging these calls to you phone line is extremely expensive.
Dimpi: Alternatively, you can just use Ahsan's phone. That's what I do.
Darren: The campus is located about 5 minutes by car, 20 minutes by foot from Portsmouth, the nearest town. This is where you find the banks, travel agencies, the post office, the movie theater, and other such modern conveniences.
Dimpi: Actually, it's a lot like New York City, except without all the people and the cars and the buildings.
Darren: I just finished my PADI Open Water diving certification recently and it was amazing. They say that Dominica is a mecca for divers. Should you prefer to keep your neck above water there's also sailing, kayaking and windsurfing down the beach next to Coconuts. If you are not satisfied with the hike up and down the Banana Trail, many students organize day trips to Boiling Lake, Trafalgar Falls and the Emerald Pool, or the dreaded Mt. Diablo.
Dimpi: If you don't want to stray far from campus there's a wide range of activities that one can pursue. There are basketball and tennis courts as well as a sand volleyball court on campus. For all you volleyball aficionados, be weary of the treacherous Necator Americanus (aka the new world hook worm) which resides in the sand court compliments of the neighborhood cats. To prevent any "uninvited guests" it may be a good idea to wear shoes/sandals while playing. The Ross brochure mentions a weight room, but that's only half true. While there are weights present, they're stored in an semi-outdoor three walled carport. It's not Bally's but it works.
Darren: Dimpi, don't forget to tell them about the Student Government Association (SGA) pool and ping pong tables, foosball table, dart board, and various sports equipment.
Dimpi: Don't worry, I won't.
Dimpi: Is an issue.
Darren: By and large the island is a safe place full of friendly people. However, being mindful of personal safety is always smart.
Dimpi: While my experiences here have only been positive, it only makes sense to travel with a buddy and use a flashlight at night.
Darren: Make security a priority when choosing your place to live as break-ins have been known to happen on occasion.
Skulls & Microscopes
Dimpi: The only skull you need at Ross is the one in your head. The model skulls they want you to buy are, to borrow a word from Tiny, useless.
Darren: You'll need to look at a skull for a sum total of 45 minutes over the course of the semester. Use the real skulls in the lab and in the Learning Resource Center.
Dimpi: As far as microscopes go, you can go for the purchase or lease option from the bookstore or buy one used from other students. The latter seems to be the most economical option specially if you share it with a friend. However, microscopes acquired from the bookstore are warranteed for the duration of your five semesters on the island, whereas you are on your own with previously enjoyed microscopes.
Dimpi: Invest in a comfortable pair of shoes because they will be your main means of transportation while on the island. By and large, very few students purchase vehicles. If you plan on doing so, be aware that Dominica follows the British system of driving on the left-hand side of the road. If you need to get into Portsmouth (a five minute drive) it'll cost you $1 EC. If you need to get to your place on the Banana Trail (a 45 second drive) it will cost you $1 EC. In the unlikely event that you need to get to Roseau (the capital) be prepared to shell out $15 EC each way.
Darren: If you're planning on living within 15 minutes of the school you may want to consider bringing a bike. There are always several for sale on campus but count on spending $300 to $400 US for a heavily used mountain bike.
Dimpi: Yes, the island is surrounded on all sides by water.
Darren: I think they meant drinking water.
Dimpi: Oh, my bad. I use bottled water myself. I used to use Lubiere, but now I use the Pure Water brand because the label says that it's "APPROVED." I don't know what it's approved for, but it's better than nothing.
Darren: Hmm . . . what's up with the expiration date the bottle cap anyway?
Dimpi: I was wondering about that. I wasn't aware that water could "expire."
Darren: Not Y2K compliant I guess. It may not be a bad idea to drag a Brita water filter down to the island unless you have a steel stomach like Mark. Otherwise, the water fountains on campus dispense pseudo-filtered water for your drinking pleasure.
Dimpi: We should stick some of that water under the scope and see what new life forms we find.
Darren: Yeah...it may be scarier than the path slides.
Darren: Damn if it's not hotter than a half fucked fox in a forest fire Dimpi!
Dimpi: No doubt...we're talking 5 shower-a-day country down here. Personally, I keep a stick of deodorant in my back pocket at all times. Plan on using at least 6 deodorant sticks each day that you're here (minimum).
Darren: If it's not the heat it's the stupidity. Actually, be prepared for torrential rain falls periodically throughout the day. A sturdy umbrella is a must.
Dimpi: It's actually very nice here most of the time. It only rains for 5 minutes at time, but when it does--watch out. I'm telling you, giant walls of water come falling from the sky and soak everything in their path. If you get caught in one of these downpours while walking to school, it's not unlike walking around the bottom of a swimming pool with all your clothes on.