MD Program Admissions

A leading edge 3-year MD program at the University of Calgary

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RE: Top 10 entries…a word of advice

August 1st, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Happy long weekend everyone.

We often get questions regarding entries into the top 10. I’m re-posting this from last year because it’s the best guidance I can give to the applicant pool…BE YOURSELF!!!

One of the themes throughout my time blogging on this site has been BE YOURSELF. If I were applying today and 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 that makes me feel good and has made me the person I am? Do my top 10s clearly pain of picture of me?

Too often, applicants craft their top 10s because of advice from people who believe they know what the file reviewers are “looking” for or their experience. They want to duplicate the path of success of others while truly not knowing what that path was.

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 today? 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 often hear rumbles from 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 identify as token experiences in the trifecta-volunteer at a hospital, do some research, and belong to a club..  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 their applications; they are passionate about their volunteer work,  Examples litter her/his top 10 and because of this passion they have led and organized events or societies.  It’s obvious what makes them 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 entire life chasing this dream.  Has overcome injury, struggled with mental health issues and overcome all of this to become 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 there was a void ( 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.


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Re: Release of Scores from the 2019-20 Admission Cycle and advice

July 30th, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

I hope this finds you all well as you are working on your applications and for some of you preparing for the MCAT.

We are receiving numerous questions surrounding when we will be releasing applicant scores from the last cycle. I have answered this in this blog but I thought it would be useful to post here and give an update that is easier to find.

For context, many schools do not release previous scores but we now have for the last several years. We debate the value of this on an ongoing basis. The biggest value I personally see is that it does give applicants an idea of where they rank overall and “how close they were”. As mentioned previously, for receiving an interview and/or an offer the differences are often very small. My concern revolves around applicants who look at their file review scores and then decide to completely change their applications (or parts of their applications, specifically the top ten) to try to boost an area they believed they were weak in. As I’ve posted before, this may have unintended consequences in other area so I just recommend that you proceed with caution when “overhauling” your top ten. Remember the top ten is supposed to be a reflection of you, who your are, what life experiences were important to you, how these shaped you. Simply said, that shouldn’t change in one year.

With that said:

1. The scores will be released towards the end of August. As you read this, many may ask why the delay. It comes down to the simple fact that COVID -19 affected not only the way we needed to change elements in the last cycle but also for the upcoming cycle and that has necessitated changes in our online platforms that are not necessarily easy fixes.

2. We will only be releasing the file review scores. Again, you may ask why and the simple reason is that the cumulative scores are different between the two cohorts from last year and the relative ranking is more difficult to interpret. If you ranked highly in the file review and did not receive an offer or were put on the waitlist it usually signals that you did below average on the interview.

I hope you find some of this helpful. Please do not start posting or asking why you can’t see your scores earlier, the reasons why it’s so important to see your old scores, to reconsider releasing all the scores, etc…

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RE: Transcript Section and GPA Calculation back up in UCAN

July 25th, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Dear Applicants,

The transcript section and GPA calculation is back up on the UCAN application website.

If you encounter any problems please let us know.

Tags: 41 Comments

Re: Entering information into the Publication Section-How’s and What

July 14th, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Dear Applicants,

Thank you for your continued interest in the UME program at the Cumming School of Medicine.

There are many questions coming in to regarding publications.

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 chapters.  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.

To 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 the 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. Note: Theses are not considered peer-reviewed publications. Work arising from thesis work adhering to the above criteria is.

If the above criteria are met you may then enter your work:

1. You do not need to be the first author. If you are not the first author, please describe your role in the research. We do follow-up on roles.

2. For a publication, aside from listing the authors, you will need to list the title. journal, volume , date

3. For a published abstract, list as above, most should be associated with a journal or journal supplement. If they are not then you can enter the URL of the meeting, meeting report, or proceedings. We just need to be able to find it.

4. For presentations, please adhere to rules of number 3.

5. For non-peer reviewed, please enter the publisher/publishing house in the journal section and the year if it is a book chapter.

Tags: 18 Comments

Re: 2020-21 Admission Cycle Update-Requesting Transcripts PLEASE READ

July 14th, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Dear Applicants,

I hope you are well on the way in filling out your application.

We understand that many academic institutions are not supplying hard copies of transcripts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of this, we will be accepting e-copies under these conditions:

1. Transcripts must be PDFs and either encrypted or password protected.
2. We will also accept transcripts from secure websites of other institutions that are downloadable.
3. Transcripts must still come directly from the institution.

We still prefer hard copies, and are asking applicants to check back with their institutions in early September to see if there have been changes.

E-transcripts or instructions may be sent to:

Tags: 4 Comments

Re: GPA calculation error in UCAN (online application platform)

July 9th, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Dear applicants,

We are aware that UCAN is not calculating the GPA properly. This is likely due to reprogramming of the system in order to handle the grades from the 2019-20 academic year. Our external vendor is working to fix the error.

Please work on other parts of your application in the meantime while we await the fix.

Thank you for your patience.

Tags: 24 Comments

RE: Introduction of the Black Applicant Admissions Process (BAAP)

July 7th, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Today we formally announced the Black Applicant Admissions Process. We wish to thank our admissions colleagues at the University of Toronto who were pioneers in this regard with their BSAP program. More importantly, we are extremely grateful to the Calgary Black Medical Students Association for their strength and leadership in shaping this for the CSM.

Why a Black Applicant Admissions Process (BAAP)?

The Cumming School of Medicine recognizes that there is a need to increase diversity and promote equity at all levels of medicine including the MD admissions process. Historically members of the Black Community have been underrepresented in both the applicant pool and un undergraduate medical classes.

In June 2020, in response to a Call for Action Plan by the Calgary Black Medical Students Association (BMSA), and with their collaboration, The Black Applicant Admissions Process (BAAP) was introduced to support Black medical student representation at the University of Calgary. BAAP aims to limit any disadvantages Black applicants face during the application process attributed to their race or ethnicity.

What is BAAP?

The Black Applicant Admissions Process (BAAP) is an optional opportunity for Black applicants. Those who choose to be part of BAAP will undergo the same application process and are held to the same standards as the remainder of the applicant pool. The difference is that they will have members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community engage in their file review. Applicants to the BAAP may also include an optional personal essay highlighting why they have chosen to apply through this application stream (not scored). The files are otherwise anonymized to reviewers.

Who is eligible for BAAP?

Black applicants who self-identify as Black African, Black Caribbean, Black North American, or as multi-racial students identifying with their Black ancestry

How does BAAP differ from the regular application process?

Applicants who go through the BAAP will be evaluated in the same manner as the remainder of the applicant pool. During evaluation, they will be ranked against the remainder of the applicant pool. The major differences are that out of the file reviewers 50% will be from the BIPOC community and there is an optional essay that applicants may write to explain why they chose to apply through the BAAP.

When will BAAP come into effect?

The BAPP will come into effect in the 2020-21 application cycle.

Introducing the BAAP is a step in the right direction. However, there is a lot more we need to do in order to truly achieve equity in our admissions process. Our Office of Admissions and leadership team is committed to working with BIPOC leaders and other underrepresented groups to define the scope of the issues and find solutions to address them, not just within our UME program but in all our undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate programs.

Tags: 8 Comments

Re: Admissions Blog-Rules of Engagement 2020-21

July 1st, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

I like to use the blog to update applicants and answer frequently asked questions that may be coming to the office. I will also post to dispel misconceptions that we become aware of so applicants are not harmed by listening to those outside of the admissions team.

This past cycle there was significant activity because of COVID-19 and a variety of changes associated with the admissions process.

A few comments:

1. General Questions regarding admissions should go to the email of the student advisor at So please do not ask specific questions related to your application here. If you believe you are not getting a timely response it is likely that the answer is in the Applicant Manual.

2. Although, we appreciate comments and opinions from applicants this is not the place to share opinion regarding how the admissions process should be run, what your suggestions are etc…The policies and procedures are outlined in the Applicant Manual and do not change. Unfortunately, some applicants get misinformation when reading these types of posts and there are times that debates erupt that are not professional or respectful. These are likely better left for other forums out there such as premed 101 or reddit.

3. Although you may post anonymously, we can see your IP address. There are a number of you who post under different aliases from the same IP address on the same topic as if you are having conversations with others to strengthen your point/position. This has happened with three different individuals in the past two weeks. Please refrain from this. Please be professional in your posts and always consider if the office of admissions knew who I was when I post would I still post the same thing, in the same manner.

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Re: Release of Scores from Previous Cycle-Late July

July 1st, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Dear Applicants,

There have been a few questions regarding the release of scores from the previous cycle. This is a somewhat more difficult than previous years with the two different cohorts. We are having internal discussions on what to release and external discussions with our vendor on allowing a mass release.

I have posted previously on this and the earliest I can see them being released is late July.

Tags: 4 Comments

Re: Welcome-The 2020-21 Application Cycle will open July 8/2020

June 28th, 2020 by Dr. Remo Panaccione

Dear “Future” applicants,

Welcome to the 2020-21 Application Cycle.

The 2020-21 Application Cycle will officially open on July 8, 2020. The 2020-21 Applicant Manual will also be released at the same time.

A few important remarks:

1. As a school and as an admissions office we pride ourselves in being transparent with our process and policies.  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 our school before, please reread the manual.

2. Our office is here to help. We are a small office and we receive thousands of email requests. These emails are prioritized. We humbly request that you respect this through the process. We put as much detail as possible into the Applicant Manual as possible in order to answer common questions. Given that you are applying to a professional school we do have an expectation that you have read the manual before applying. If you email us a question, that is easily answered within the manual it will receive a lower priority and/or may not be answered.

3.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.

4. We recognize that for many of you, especially if this is your first time applying that the process 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 alleviate 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. If you have written the MCAT please release your scores to the University of Calgary. however, do not release your scores before July 10, 2020

2. Request your transcripts from every post secondary institution you have attended and have them sent to our office (address listed in the Applicant Manual)

3. As soon as the cycle opens, please start reaching out to your three referees.

4. Begin thinking about and organizing your Top 10 experiences. If there is one thing that separates a good application from a more average one is the way the applicant reflects on and writes the top 10. I will comment on this early in the cycle but it’s not the list that matters but how the applicant reflects on the item and how it has impacted or shaped them as an applicant.

We wish you the best of luck during this application cycle and look forward to meeting many of you along your journey.

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