MD Program Admissions

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Re: Entering Top ten Experiences: What should I choose?

July 20th, 2019 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

As I woke up this morning I encountered a question on the blog regarding how to choose the top 10.  There have many calls into the office and we often see this type of question on other blogs like pre-med 101.  Obviously I can’t tell individual applicants what to put in their top 10 but I can dispel some myths and give you some examples.

One of the themes throughout my time blogging on this site has been BE YOURSELF. If I were applying today  an I read the application manual (Section 4.11)  the first sentence states : “Applicants are given the opportunity to identify up to 10 activities or experiences that they feel are sufficiently important as to define them as individuals.”    I would then site down and ask myself the question “Who am I”  What do I want the admissions committee to know about me?  What am I proud of? What in my life have I done to make me feel good and has bettered me?

Too often, as was the question this morning, applicants craft their top 10s because they want to demonstrate elements of the CanMEd competencies.  I’m unsure where this came from but the CanMeds competencies are for those who have gone through medical school.  These are skills and attributes that you acquire.  True there is overlap between the overarching areas of CanMeds and some of the attributes we score but the way we look at these is very different.

In addition, applicants look at CanMeds or the 5 non-cognitive attributes and want to fill every bucket with an entry into the top 10 or “plan” their life to  fill these buckets.  I will give you some silly examples that most of you hopefully will relate to. The applicant sees in CanMeds roles and the attributes we score on leadership.  The applicant scratches their heads and comes to the conclusion  that they don’t have anything that is strong to enter….Oh wait…I was captain of my pee-wee hockey team.  This gets entered into the top 10.  They then try to write eloquently around this. If you were a reviewer, what would you think of this?  Does this event which happened likely over a 10-20 years ago truly  show leadership? The fact the applicant chose this…does it demonstrate insight? Maturity?  Does this truly tell me anything about the applicant and who they are? What else may have the applicant put in the top 10.  This is an example, where not only would the entry likely lead to a low score in one of the attributes but leads to lower scores in other attributes which all stemmed from the desire to enter a score to fulfil a CanMeds role or an attribute we list.

We see this often in unsuccessful candidates, I checked all the boxes, “why were my scores so low”. “Chasing” the attributes, “checking the boxes”, “trying to demonstrate the CanMeds roles often leads to undesired consequences.  It also leads to what we call token experiences.  The example that I often site is “the one summer of research”. This does not make you a scholar. It checks a box but during that summer the applicant could have been exploring their passion for old cars. They had no previous knowledge of mechanics but self-taught themselves, worked full time to earn money to buy the parts and restored an old car to working condition.  That entry shows maturity to follow a passion, passion for something outside academics, self-balance, and yes intellectual curiosity.

Finally, for those who are still not convinced and want me to talk about numbers.  None of these candidates actually exist but you probably “recognize” them. Candidate A fills out is passionate about his/her volunteer work,  Examples litter hr/his top 10 and because of this passion she has led and organized events or societies.  It’s obvious what makes her hum and who they are.   They have no research experience, have never published, etc… The candidate has scores ranging from 8-10 on four categories and even 0 in scholarly activity.   Candidate B is an athlete. Has spent their whole life chasing this dream.  Has overcome injury, struggled with mental health issues and overcome all of this to be the captain of a an elite sports team,  Has never done research, only minimal volunteering mostly with their sports related activities.  I know what makes this candidate hum and who they are.  Scores range from 8-10 and then a few 3-4.  Candidate C has escaped a war torn country, and immigrated to Canada,  They have endured racism and have learned English as a second language.  Because of financial difficulties within the family they have worked various part-time jobs since the age of 14.  They have taken time to help other immigrant families.  They have balanced this with a very respectful GPA.  No research, no high profile leadership.  I know this candidates life story, I know what they could sacrifice, and where they struggled.  Scores range from 8-10 across multiple activities.  Candidate D.  This candidate has a stellar GPA and very good MCAT score (90 the percentile). In their top 10 they list numerous academic awards,  the fact they played piano (grade 10), hasn’t played this since. decided to work one summer in a research lab after first year undergrad, volunteers 3-4 hours every other week at a local hospital, formed a club on campus in their last year of undergrad but this club doesn’t seem to have much activity that is visible , oh an btw the summer they took the MCAT  the reviewers can’t ascertain what the candidate was doing.  I have no idea who this candidate is.  What makes them hum. But they sure tick every box,  Guess what the scores may be here. Candidate D doesn’t get an interview and then wonders why..”I ticked all the boxes.” The process must be flawed or unfair.

For those who read this. I hope you gather some insight.  BE YOURSELF.

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2018-2019 Application cycle scores released + words of advice

July 18th, 2019 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Many of you are aware that as of this afternoon if you were unsuccessful last year that your scores are now available for viewing within UCAN.

Every year there are numerous unsuccessful applicants who contact us eagerly wanting to see their scores and percentile rank.  We believe that a substantial number of unsuccessful applicants use these scores as a road map on how they should change their application to be more successful.  I would offer a word of caution about this:

1.  Our goal in the admissions is to as accurately as possible get to know YOU.  Unfortunately, too many applicants want to portray who they believe we want to see.  There is always rumours on different threads of what we looking for and what we want to see in our applicants.  We don not have a blueprint of the type of applicant we want and that is why there is so much diversity in each class.

What often happens is that applicants will change their application, omit things that are likely meaningful in order to add something in their top 10 to push their scores up in an area where they see weakness as perceived by a lower score.  Candidates need to remember that you are judged yearly against the applicant pool of that year.  Based on the mix of that applicant pool, you could enter the exact same application two years in a row and in some areas get vastly different scores.  This is product of the strength in the applicant pool and the lottery which is the reviewers that are randomly assigned toy you.


2. Remember your top 10 is supposed to be YOUR top 10.  the things that are important to you and bring out your passion or have shaped who you are.  Some of the best entries annually would surprise the majority of applicants because there are not your stereotypical  i volunteered at a hospital, I worked in a lab, I was the president of a club, I volunteered at a distress centre. etc… These are all noble and worthwhile but so are other life experiences.


3. In mid July, can you really change things in 10-12 weeks to strengthen your file based on what you interpret are your weaknesses in your scores?  This is highly unlikely. If you have already have things outside your top 10 that may highlight an area where you received a low score than this is different. However,  remember bringing something in means something needs to give and their are unknown consequences of taking a former top 10 off.

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Re: Clubs and associations

July 15th, 2019 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

We are starting to get more questions surrounding clubs and associations.  Being a member or holding a leadership position in a club or association is something we commonly see in the application.  We also occasionally see applicants list  that they have founded a club or association.  Therefore, I think it’s appropriate to give everyone some guidelines.

  1. If you are listing involvement in a club or association in your top 10 it should be something we can verify not only with the verifier but ideally with another source.  Campus clubs and associations should be officially recognized by the university or the student union.  For example, at the University of Calgary we can find this information at this website: or for the University of Alberta here:

These types of policies are commonplace at major academic institutions around the country.  We will be checking on                     whether these affiliations exist.  Similarly, when listing leadership positions within clubs or associations it’s ideal if there             is a documented organization chart.  Whenever possible, verifiers should be faculty advisors to the club . In the absence               of this, then it should be the highest ranking official.  In line with section 4.7 of the applicant manual, our preference is that verifiers also have a professional email address.

2.  If the club or association is not a campus related one, ideally it should have some sort of presence on the internet that is                searchable. whether it be a web page, twitter account, or the like.

3.  In general, we don’t recommend using club members as referees.

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Re: To be me or not to be me: That is the question?

July 14th, 2019 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Today I bring you a spin on the classic phrase from Hamlet’s soliloquy which is one of the most recognizable in all of literature.  Most of you studied Shakespeare in high school and may have even read Hamlet.  The soliloquy in essence speaks to Hamlet’s struggles with the toils of life  and his contemplation of whether perhaps death would be a more attractive or suitable alternative. So how does this relate to the application process to medical school.

Every year we receive between 1500-2000 applications to review.  Most of them are stellar and it’s difficult for us to differentiate. We wholeheartedly understand that the competition to get into medical school can be overwhelming.  Many candidates look at the smallest ways they believe will differentiate themselves from others.  This unfortunately leads some applicants to embellish parts of their application, overstate their involvement in particular activities, or worse, fabricate or falsify entire sections.  How good this be true of someone who want to be in medicine…impossible.

Disturbingly,  surfing other  websites and blogs, this practice is not uncommon.  More recently, I read an entry on another website of a candidate asking whether they should increase the number of hours they actually worked per week while in school to differentiate their 4.0 GPA from perhaps those that didn’t list part-time work or who worked but less hours.  If your reading this, you may think, so what is the big deal, who cares if someone worked 6 hours per week and entered that they worked 12.  Simply put we see these as acts of commission.  Candidates need to think and reflect before they enter information and then choose “yeah…it’s ok…I’ll just enter 12.  At the admissions level, these type of entries when uncovered  make us question the remainder of the application, it’s genuineness or authenticity and the honesty and integrity of the applicant.  There is no such thing as “a little white lie” in the admissions process.  When you re-read your application before submitting it ask yourself ; “is this a true reflection of me?”  That is what we want to see in the application.  We want to see you not who you want us to believe is you.

This is why we have revised policies in the application manual which is addressed in Section 4 and 8.2.  As you can see, applicants will be held accountable for what is in their application even beyond the application cycle. including if they are admitted.

So as Hamlet chose “to be”  as an applicant choose “to be me”.  Remember if Hamlet chose the alternative it would have been suicide.


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Re: Entering information into education section-new

July 13th, 2019 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Hopefully everyone is having an excellent weekend.

I wanted to address two points in the blog today.


  1. The first one has to do with entering the description of courses.  Where possible please be as detailed as possible about what the course content actually was.  For example, if on the manuscript the class is listed as a math course with a course number but is actually a calculus course or statistics course list it as calculus not simply math.  In addition, you can imagine that it is impossible to list every course.  if you don’t find it in the menu,  I would recommend entering the section or faculty it belongs to rather that OTHER. Entering other keeps us guessing…is it a required course as part of the degree or an elective.  The more specific you are the easier it is for the reviewers to assign you a score in the area of “subjective assessment of academic merit.”
  2. There is a new section this year .  there is a free text section in which we are interested in hearing from you why you enrolled in the undergraduate degree you did and in addition why you chose the electives you chose outside of your degree area. Ideally, for each elective on your transcript you will provide us the rationale you chose it and how it fits in with your degree or other interests.

Presently the area above the section is written in this manner:

“Please describe why you selected the option courses in your degree program.”  The programmer will be adding a sentence to reflect the above.

Please describe why you selected the undergraduate degree you did and please describe why you selected the option courses in your degree program.

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Update: Release of scores for previous applicants

July 9th, 2019 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Hello everyone,

We have had several inquiries regarding the dates when the scores will be released for those who were unsuccessful during the last admissions cycle.

If you were an applicant in the last cycle you should have received correspondence that contained the proposed dates:

“Although we do not offer specific advice to unsuccessful applicants, your pre-MMI and MMI scores will be available on-line by the beginning of August, should you wish to review them.”

We are still on this timeline. Realistically the scores will be released either the last week of Jul or the first week of August.

Thank you for your patience

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Entering data into the Publications Section of UCan-PLEASE READ

July 7th, 2019 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable weekend.  Calgary is in full Stampede mode and hopefully the weather will cooperate so that our international visitors can take full advantage of our city and the festivities.

The applications are starting to flow in and we are looking forward to receiving the final submissions as the summer rolls along.

It has already become apparent that some applicants are not adhering to the guidelines in section 4.9 of the applicant manual and are entering data which we do not consider publications at the admissions committee level and may be interpreted by reviewers as potentially misleading.  For some of you, it may be that you feel obliged that something needs to go in this section. For others, it may be that you want to highlight that you have done some research.  If that research is important to you, then you may want to reflect it in your top 10 but do not misrepresent it in this section.

I once again encourage you to read section 4.9 but will offer some clarification.

There may be some confusion by what is meant by peer-reviewed.  This means external scholarly individuals have reviewed the work and deemed it acceptable for publication and or presentation (oral or poster).   Non-peer reviewed usually refers to invited reviews, editorials, letters, book reviews.  They may even be commissioned.

In addition, for poster or oral presentations, please only list those at recognized national or international conferences.  These are usually run by or sanctioned by a major national or international scientific organization. We should be able to easily find these with a simple search in the information you provide.

Oral or poster presentations at local meetings SHOULD NOT BE ENTERED.  We give examples in the application manual but this includes inter or intra-university presentations.  For example, at the University of Calgary we annually hold a one day conference in Gastroenterology called the Schaffer Awards where undergrad, grad students, and residents  present their research as posters or oral presentations.  This is considered a local meeting.   Therefore, local research days, half-days and  symposiums do not meet do not meet our criteria.

T0 qualify as a regional meeting it  still needs to be sanctioned by a scientific body and this does not mean a university/universities.  I will again give an example from Gastroenterology.  We have an annual meeting called the Alberta Digestive Disease Summit.  This is hosted by the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta under the umbrella of the Alberta Society of Gastroenterology.  Students and residents may present their research but this is only found in the syllabus given to attendees.   It is not public and therefore we have no way of verifying the accuracy. Therefore, it should not be entered.

In the end the simplest rule to follow is –if what your entering can not be found in a journal, supplement to a journal, published conference proceeding (which is public), or online then it likely does not meet our criteria.

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Welcome to the 2019-2020 Application Cycle

July 1st, 2019 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Happy Canada Day everyone!!! I hope everyone had a wonderful long weekend.

I have officially taken over for Dr. Ian Walker as Director of  Undergraduate Medical School Admissions here at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.  I will be joined by Dr. Rabiya Jalil who will be the Associate Director. First of all, I want to acknowledge the truly amazing job Dr. Walker did in his tenure as the Director of Admissions.  He implemented many new policies and procedures during that time and his legacy will live on for many years to come.

As a school and as an admissions office we pride ourselves in being transparent with our process and policies.  This is why the most relevant material can be found in our application manual.  It details the admission policies and procedures and answers many of the questions that applicants may have.  I would encourage you to read it thoroughly to familiarize yourself with the way we do things.  Each year, including this year there are slight changes; so even if you have applied to us before, please reread the manual.

The manual can be found here:

If you have specific questions, we encourage you to first refer to the manual before reaching out to the office.  We are more than happy to provide clarification on specific points in the manual but our expectation is  that you have used the manual as a reference prior to calling the office.  Some applicants have a false belief that by calling the office that they will gain information that will help them in the application process. This is a not true.

The application site officially opens on July 3rd and can be found here.

We recognize that for many of you, especially if this is your first time applying that it can provoke both stress and anxiety.  However, we would encourage you to relax, get organized and use the remainder of the summer to prepare your application.  This will relieve much of the stress and anxiety that can escalate if you wait until the last minute to apply after the summer is over.

You should start with the following:

  1. Request that your transcripts be sent to our office by the post secondary institutions you have attended.
  2. Begin speaking to the individuals you want to nominate as your referees.
  3. Begin sketching out your top 10 list.

We wish you all the best, and we look forward to receiving your application and meeting many of you along your journey.

Remo Panaccione, MD, FRCPC


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June 27th, 2019 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

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Update on the waitlist, and change in leadership

June 5th, 2019 by Dr Ian Walker

First, I can confirm that the waitlist has moved much less than in previous years.  Currently, all but 4 positions in the incoming medical school class have been spoken for.  We have 4 offers outstanding, which I believe expire at the end fo the week.  I would expect a handful of more offers next week, and then a trickle as the odd person inevitably choses to attend somewhere else after accepting here initially.  I expect a note will go out from the office staff soon regarding that.

Second, I should let you all know that as of June 1st, I am no longer Director of Admissions.  While it has been a great experience, and I think we have accomplished much over the past decade, it is time for new energy and focus.  My replacement is a fantastic physician colleague who shares our collective vision for MD admissions. His name is Dr. Panaccione, and I expect you will be hearing from him soon on this platform.

Best of luck to one and all.

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