Rory Schafer’s background as a law clerk and social worker has impacted his plans as he accepts his medical degree from McMaster University this week.

He is now a three-time graduate of McMaster. He completed his degree in cultural anthropology in 2010, working as a law clerk for a personal injury firm before returning three years later to earn a bachelor of arts degree in social work.

A few years into his career in social work, Schafer realized he wanted to be able to better help his clients, many of whom suffered from addiction and homelessness.

“As a law clerk and as a social worker, I realized I enjoyed working with people and helping to solve their problems,” he said.

“However, I found it frustrating, especially as a social worker, there were medical problems impacting my clients and I wasn’t able to intervene. Medicine was something I thought about for a few years, and finally I decided to apply and see what would happen.

“I didn’t expect to get in because I didn’t have the CV that many people have in medicine, but I applied to McMaster and got in.”  

Schafer, who was raised in the Niagara region, was accepted to McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine Niagara Regional Campus.

And if medical school wasn’t difficult enough, Schafer and his wife, Sara, a social worker, welcomed a daughter, Violet, in his second year in May 2019. They currently call St. Catharines home.

While the thought of parenting and completing a degree at one of the country’s top medical schools may be daunting, Schafer said becoming a first-time father had quite the opposite effect.

“It was challenging to negotiate how much to spend studying and there were overnight call shifts, but on the flip side, having a child is a good way to keep perspective into what you are doing and help you remember there’s a life outside of school and medicine,” he said.

“My daughter is a constant reminder to take breaks and enjoy family time. While I don’t think I would do it again, I can’t imagine my life without her.”

Schafer will be staying at McMaster’s Niagara Regional Campus for his family medicine residency which was his top choice for his specialty training. He anticipates pursuing additional education down to road to better help patients with addiction and other mental health issues, as well as providing primary care to those who are experiencing homelessness. 

“There’s a lot of overlap and transferrable skills between social work and family medicine, such as patient relationships, being an advocate for patients and helping them navigate a system that can be confusing,” he said. “I had considered psychiatry, but family medicine is a better fit for myself having a family and the length of the residency.”

Schafer said the ability to not only identify, but to take action towards his new professional calling has been possible thanks to his wife, as well as his dad, Udo.

“I have a super supportive partner and my dad has really helped with child care,” he said. “I don’t think I could have done this without having as much family support as I did.”

McMaster's spring convocations will be held on the same days as scheduled but, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, graduands will be receiving a personalized video and entrance into a website with video greetings from university officials. In-person celebrations will be scheduled later. The School of Nursing celebrates its convocation of 547 students on May 20. Next day, the 199 graduands of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, with 143 from the Hamilton campus, 29 from the Waterloo Regional Campus and 27 from the Niagara Regional Campus, join 419 students of other programs of the Faculty of Health Sciences for their convocation. More information on the Faculty's convocations may be found here