Science & Technology, Student Research

Let’s talk about poop: McGill student won’t let Crohn’s disease stop her from becoming a doctor

Poop. There’s no shame in talking about it. We all need “to go” in one form or another and it’s completely normal. However, bathroom breaks affect some people’s lives more than others. Taylor Morganstein, a first-year medical student at McGill, wants to talk about poop more openly to start the conversation about Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that presents itself as swelling of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is a chronic illness where the body attacks the inner lining of its own GI tract. Crohn’s can cause extreme abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and malnutrition. Approximately 300,000 Canadians live with Crohn’s disease and, yet, it is rarely spoken about in mainstream media.   

Morganstein was in her last year of her BSc in Pharmacology at McGill when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s. She had experienced some symptoms for a while but had not paid much attention to them until Dr. Edward Wild, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine and a practicing clinical gastroenterologist at the McGill University Health Centre, brought up Crohn’s disease during an EXMD 509 lecture. As he went through a list of symptoms associated with Crohn’s, a light went off in Taylor’s head. After class, she contacted her family doctor who then ran some tests that pointed to Crohn’s. 

Morganstein always wanted to pursue medicine, but Crohn’s has had a huge impact on her journey to becoming a doctor. According to Morganstein, being a patient in the hospital was a “really tough experience” that “made [her] never want to be in the hospital again.” 

“My personal experience showed me how important diagnosis is,” Morganstein said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “It made me motivated to learn how to be a good doctor.”

Due to Crohn’s symptoms, Morganstein fell behind in her nursing studies—she would later transfer into McGill’s medical school. During more manageable flare-ups, Morganstein would participate in class virtually, but circumstances changed during the Winter 2022 semester.

Severe complications forced Morganstein to undergo surgery for a bowel obstruction, which are fairly common in patients with Crohn’s disease: Their GI tract can swell up and form scar tissue which narrows the tract. This can sometimes cause blockages requiring surgery to remove the obstruction. 

Morganstein had an added stress while preparing for her surgery: She was in the process of applying for medical school. Her surgeon scheduled the surgery around her medical school interview, and while in recovery, she found out that she got in. Getting into medical school is one thing, but being able to work long hours is another.

“When you have Crohn’s, you may not be able to stand in one place for a while so having, like, a cashier job is hard,” Morganstein said. 

She isn’t alone. Many people with Crohn’s worry about their employment. To help alleviate some of the financial concerns for students with Crohn’s, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, a registered charity dedicated to supporting those impacted by Crohn’s and colitis, partnered with AbbVie, a pharmaceutical company, to give out 15 grants to Canadian students impacted by IBD in 2022. Morganstein received one of the 15 grants. 

“[The grants] are a yearly reminder that there are 15 students [with Crohn’s] that put in so much work and get into amazing programs,” Morganstein said. “The grant gave me peace of mind.” 

Morganstein works closely with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and will often attend events to speak about her experience. She explained that her work with the organization has helped her connect with others diagnosed with the disease and feel supported by the Crohn’s community.

Crohn’s is an invisible disease and yet inflicts so much suffering. Morganstein insists that people should “be kind to others even if it’s not visible.” She also believes that Crohn’s shouldn’t stop anyone from pursuing their passions. In the future, she plans on specializing in pediatric gastroenterology to help kids living with inflammatory bowel diseases. 

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