MD Program Admissions

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Update for Applicants

January 18th, 2016 by Dr Ian Walker

All of our file reviews were complete as of this morning.  We had 1214 applicants in the final analysis that went for full file review.  We should be ready to make interview offers later this week.

If and when you get an interview offer, you will receive instructions on how to schedule your interview on line using UCAN.  That system will open a day or two after you get your letter.  You should go and look around before that, as well as sign off on the technical standards required of MD students prior to the scheduler openning.  When it does open, it is first come, first served, and it is a bit of a free for all.  80-90% of spots are taken within 2 minutes, and if you miss out on the spot you want, there is nothing we can do about it.

This year, there will be 522 interview spots, meaning that we will interview 43% of applicants.  That works out to 80 spots for non-Albertans, and the balance for Albertans.  There will be three interview times each day, but variable numbers of spots.

The MMI circuit stations are pretty much done as well.  This is going to be an interesting, and hopefully fun experience for the candidates, but I will go on record right now and say that the stations are mostly NOT of the traditional “explore and issue, take a position, blah blah blah” type, and I suspect that people will not feel that they were able to prepare in any meaningful way for the experience.  That is, of course, our goal.

For those who do not ultimately get offers, all I can say is that persistence pays off.  There is an undeniably subjective component to this process, and with that comes a certain amount of luck.  Just as having gotten an interview one year is no guarantee of getting one again the following, neither is not getting one a guarantee of not being successful next time.

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45 responses so far ↓

  • Thank you Dr. Walker for this blog. Do you ever use feedback from applicants (both successful and failed) when setting your admission policies and processes? I’ve spoken with administrators from a few different schools and I get the sense that some schools may not fully appreciate what it’s like to be an applicant today.

    For one, I think medical schools tend to romanticize their admission process; they truly believe that they have a fair, meritocratic process that only picks the best and brightest students. However, no Canadian medical school formally considers things like course difficulty of a program or a university. Some current medical students and practicing physicians that I have spoken with will freely admit they took the path of least of resistance (i.e. an easier course, program or school) to achieve their goal and would happily do so again.

    Personally, I have no problem with this strategy; these people haven’t broken the rules and did what is in their best interest. I’d even encourage any student who has the goal of entering a Canadian medical school to become a physician to do the same. Some Canadian universities will even market their programs by stating that their students achieve high GPAs with a high percentage of them have successfully gained admission into Canadian medical schools. Perhaps this is to drive up enrollment at their schools.

    What I can’t believe is the blind belief by some medical school administrators that this type of thing could never happen. I’ve spoken with administrators who have claimed there is no such thing as an easy or hard program without offering any evidence. I’d have to say it’s highly unlikely that all the programs across different schools would offer the same level of difficulty. Simply put there are some schools where only 5-10% of the class will achieve GPA >3.5, while there are others where 40-60% of the class will achieve GPA >3.5. Just based on those statistics alone, a student clearly has a higher probability of success in one of those classes. Even you’ve claimed that anyone taking easier courses will likely lose out in the end. How though? The current system does not penalize anyone for taking easier courses. Even if a small percentage of students (i.e. 5-10%) do this, you could be dealing with 120-200 applicants.

    Medical schools should be more open, honest and realistic about issues like this. I agree, it’s unlikely an entire class is comprised of people who took the easy route. However, this probably happens and I think it’s disingenuous for a medical school to dismiss this phenomenon from ever occurring. What are your thoughts?

    • Its a reasonable conversation to have. I am not sure your characterization of medical school administrators is particularly accurate. I know most of my peers nationally, and I don’t think any of us have a romanticized view of our processes. I am happy to say that there are lots of issues with any process that could be in place. We have built processes that we think are defensible and reasonable, but no one is under any delusions that they are perfect. Personally, I think there is lots of random chance built into the processes we use. And, certainly there are lots of issues like the one you identify. There are also few solutions to these issues. At the end of the day, we do the best we can with the realities we face.
      Its an interesting comment about our kidding ourselves that we are somehow getting the “objectively” best and brightest. I am not sure that is true. We get some pretty good, and pretty bright people. Having never had the chance to compare our students to the people we did not take, I can’t comment on who is “best.”

      • Thanks for the honesty. I’m sure your colleagues are nice people and have a reasonable approach. However, I don’t know them in this capacity, and can only draw upon my experience with administrators (meetings, e-mails or telephone conversations).

        When I ask some basic questions (i.e. what are the limitations to the medical school process?), I’m met with tones that are defensive, dismissive and sometimes condescending. It’s very difficult to get admin to publicly admit that their approach is limited and built on several assumptions. If you can’t publicly acknowledge your limitations, how you can be expected to improve your process?

        I think a transparent, honest and realistic public discussion is a far better approach instead of trying to hide something.

    • If you want your voice heard about the admission process, you can approach the school administrators once you become a medical school student. I find that administrators are more receptive to the voices of medical school students, and I personally believe that this is the case since their opinions are MUCH more partial and coming from their own experiences (rather than coming from pre-meds, whose opinions are quite biased (since they have much to gain or lose, based on changes to the application processes)… Just my two cents

      • I would agree with your post if medical schools were privately funded in Canada; they could listen to whom they wish and make whatever rules they wanted. As they are funded by public funds and tax payer money, I believe there needs to be some accountability and open discussion with the public (which this blog does quite well). They should be be able to clearly articulate the strengths and limitations of their processes to the public. It would show some transparency.

        I’m little confused as how a medical student’s view point on the admission process is “MUCH more” partial. They may not have a direct conflict of interest (gaining or losing in the application process), but they likely have preconceptions and biases towards the process. For example, a medical student may have neutral or positive biases towards the process since they were successful in the application process. Perhaps that same medical student would feel differently towards the admissions process if they never gained admission.

        Frankly, I don’t think a medical student is immune to bias compared to anyone else. I also don’t think personal experience and anecdotal evidence would actually help issues with admissions; it should actually be based on quantifiable and verifiable data.

        I think a fair would be to actually listen to the small percentage of applicants who were successful but to also listen to the majority who weren’t to see what could be improved. In other industries and businesses, feedback is collected from a wide range of people who have good and bad experiences; not just a small subset.

        If you truly want a impartial judge, why not a third party who has no conflict of interest and is not connected to medicine. They could come in with a fresh pair of eyes and may not take assumptions for granted or have cognitive blind spots that people in medicine fall into.

        • Our process and policy is set by our committee which includes several people who are unconnected to medicine, and others who are members of other health care professions. In fact, representation on our committee is extremely broad, so I have to say that I am pretty comfortable with our decision making processes and the mitigation of bias therein.

  • Hi Dr. Walker,
    could you give us some clarification on whether the scores from all the mmi stations are included in our final mmi score, or are the worst and/or best stations being excluded?
    Thank you

  • I was wondering about applying next application cycle. I was ultimately not invited for an interview, but was accepted to some schools in the US. Because a bird in the hand is better than 2 in the bush, I’ll be going to the states for med school but was contemplating on applying again next year (even though I would be an MS1). I’m from Alberta and want to practice in Alberta and attending Calgary at $16,000 for 3 years would still be cheaper than $45K US for 4 and likely practicing and staying down south to pay off student loans. Just wondering how would this play into the admissions process if I were to re-apply next year as a med student in the US?

  • First off, thank you Dr Walker for providing this blog and making this process a little less intimidating. Looking at the last year’s statistics, the number of “successful applicants” in the graphs have an n=245. Does this number (245) include everyone that was offered admission, both 1st round offers and subsequent wait list offers? If so, how many students does the final class list consist of?
    Thank you!

  • I am writing to comment on the 10 year exclusion policy for GPA calculation. I am a non-traditional student who completed their degree before 2005. As mentioned in the application manual, early academic performance is not always indicative of current performance or potential. Since the 10 year exclusion rule is only valid for people who have completed 2 years of full-time study within the previous 10 years, I assume that only a subset of non-traditional students would be able to take advantage of this policy as they would have had to complete their degree right around 2007, or they would have completed another 2 years of full-time school after that period. I just wanted to comment and say that I feel that it would be more fair that the 10 year exclusion policy should apply to all non-traditional applicants, even if they have not completed 2 years of study within the last 10 years, as this would afford many people with potentially relevant life experience the ability to make their GPA more competitive. Personally, being able to remove the worst year or two of my GPA (which is such a significant part of the pre-MMI score) would greatly enhance my acceptance chances, and it is frustrating that some non-traditional applicants can do this while I cannot. I’m wondering what the rationale is behind applicants requiring 2 years of study within the last 10 years?

    • They need 2 years within the past 10 years so that they have something to calculate your GPA with. If you applied the 10 year exclusion rule and then you were left with no years after that then how will they calculate your GPA? You also have the option to NOT apply the 10 year rule.

    • The rationale for requiring the two years within the past 10 is that if we are going to exclude the remote academic work, we have to have something to base a GPA calculation on. If the remote academic performance is poor, you need to show us evidence that more recent academic performance is excellent. The 10 year exclusion is a clumsy tool, at best, but what it does do is allow some applicants who would otherwise NEVER be able to overcome the effects of a poor early postsecondary performance from being competitive or even eligible in the application process. The goal is not, to be clear, to simply make people more competitive generally.

      • Thank you for that clarification, I appreciate it. I guess I was mostly wondering why the last 2 years of my pre-2005 4 year degree couldn’t be used (it would obviously benefit me to be able to get rid of the first 2 years), but I do understand where you are coming from. I’ve got to work on making my MCAT score ridiculously good I guess!

  • After 3 years of being rejected pre-interview, it’s hard to believe that “Persistence pays off”. Despite re-writing the MCAT 4 times, coming from a non-trad background, working full-time in healthcare for 3+ years, expanding my long-term varied EC’s, decently high undergrad GPA… I’m obviously not the non-trad U of C is looking for. I have always been against going to school to make me more appealing for med school (simply can’t afford it as I am the breadwinner of my family), so decided against a Masters. I’m kicking myself now for this, but hindsight is 20/20.

    I truly believe in the process as my husband has been lucky enough to be selected in a previous year, and I’ve appreciated U of C’s forthcoming with the application/selection process. I truly wanted to be on the receiving end of something so great, as I feel that U of C is a unique school with a lot to offer the community, locally and globally. That being said, I still feel there is a level of “doctors beget doctors” and this has not been fully diminished as much as the process itself claims to filter this. I hope that U of C continues its mission to embrace the non-trad and the under-privileged. It’s time for me to move on, but thank you to Adele, Dr. Walker and all those in admissions office.

  • Will we be receiving a confirmation email of our selected interview time?

    • I didn’t get an email confirming the exact date and time for the interview, but the online application system does show that info after I click the button “Continue to Interview Scheduling” under the “Interview” tab.

    • I am actually not sure if UCAN does that. If you log in to the system, though, you should be able to see your confirmed interview slot

  • I’m wondering about people who did not get an interview – how can they find out what was lacking intheir application?

  • Hello Dr. Walker,

    I’m just wondering when the scores will be posted for unsuccessful applicants. Thank you

    • It will be a while. With our pending accreditation and MMI preparation, there simply has not been time. Having produced this stats a few years in a row, though, I can say that I see no reason to think that they will be significantly different from the year before.

      • Thank you, I completely understand Dr. Walker. I was asking about when applicants who did not receive an interview would receive their standardized file scores. Thank you for all the information, support and transparency. It is really appreciated

  • Hi Dr. Walker,
    Thanks so much for this information. Could you speak to the movement of the out of province waitlist you expect this year? i.e. out of the 80 offered interviews, how many would you predict will ultimately receive acceptance in the end? A rough estimate of course.

  • Hi Dr. Walker,

    I am just curious, how many out of province applicants were there this year?

    Thank you

    • “This year, there will be 522 interview spots, meaning that we will interview 43% of applicants. That works out to 80 spots for non-Albertans, and the balance for Albertans. There will be three interview times each day, but variable numbers of spots.”

      • Doesn’t really answer their question ^

        I think in a comment elsewhere Dr. Walker mentioned there were 185 out-of-province applicants.

  • Hi Dr. Walker,

    I’m curious as well as to what you wrote about the MMI. Are you saying that this year the MMI is quite different from previous years?

    Thanks!

  • Hello,

    Thank you for the update. I wondered if you plan on hosting an MMI information session as per previous years? Also, on the online file from a previous year’s session, it mentions the possiblilty of a group station – is this still a possibility for this year?

    • Not hosting a session, as I didn’t feel I had much to add to the podcast that is already available on line. Yes, there will be a group activity station this year (we trialed the concept last year, and it seemed to work). More details on that in an email to interviewees later today.

  • Can you please give us more information on this supposed “new format” for the MMIs? Based on all the prep material found on your website, I now feel like I dont know what to expect anymore … I know you mention that it’s your intention to make the MMIs mysterious, but I consider leaving us – your future students – completely in the dark about the interviews is unfair.

    • Honestly I think this is excellent. The purpose of the MMIs is to see who you are, and how you actually respond/act in a given scenario. When a general format is given it encourages people to go out and practice and rehearse answers, and at the end of the day is not a true representation of who you are.
      I don’t think this is unfair to anyone, as everyone is in the dark. There is (and has never been) any required study material. Just be yourself at the interviews, as that’s all there is to it!

      • I would agree with you if these assessments accomplished their goal of revealing how one would act and how those actions would be received by others “in real life”. However, while working in various fields of medicine with patients and doctors I have not found the mmi or any version thereof to even moderately resemble the real human interactions of the profession. As a reserved and plain speaking person I have little chance of wowing admissions in these kinds of artificial settings. For some reason my empathy/compassion turn off when I know its fake. It all feels like a bit of silliness played out while my future and passion for medicine are held by clumsy powerful hands. Yet, in real life my cautious and humble approach with an emphasis on listening, not talking, has won me the praise of both patients and doctors. These are just my thoughts on a process that has seemed thus far unjust and at times bizarre. Those of us that share these personality characteristics have little recourse on the matter save for continuing to apply and hoping our worth will shine through.

        • Perhaps. I think the issue of personality types and their impact on MMI scores is real. There is some research on that, but it is not conclusive. There is no doubt in my mind that there are limitations to the MMI format, and there are probably people who are relatively disadvantaged by that format. The same is true for every variable we use in making MD admissions decisions. What is clear though, is that the MMI format assesses something that predicts, to some extent, clinical performance. Fortunately in Canada there are a wide variety of schools that use a wide variety of assessment methods, so probably advantage different people, providing multiple access points to the profession. I would also say that there is nothing wrong with being reserved and plain speaking. The MMI stations are not at all about “wowwing” your assessor. Each one is carefully designed to address a particular thing. Yes, many will appear artificial, but they are all getting at something. They are not intended to be real world medical interactions, since most of our applicants are not real world medical practitioners.

          • I understand completely the drive to find an objective, reliable, and valid measurement of a student that correlates with clinical performance. I remember you (Dr. Walker) writing or perhaps saying in the MMI podcast that predicting clinical performance was the holy grail of admissions and I can absolutely understand why that goal is important. However, it always becomes a game of using what we know while respecting what we don’t and the broad application of a system of asessment produced by a for profit company has my skeptisense tingling. I cannot help but wonder if this year’s holy grail is just next years blah blah blah and with careers and future patient outcomes at risk the stakes could not be higher–I have no doubt you understand that much better than I do.

            To compare the MMI with the other metrics used to asses candidates ignores two very important difference between them. Most students are acutely aware of whether they excel academically well before embarking on a path towards medical practice. Students are also aware of how they compete on standardized exams very early in education. I understand the limits and biases these metrics have, but I can find no research that the MMI mitigates those (thinking about SES etc.) Also, academic metrics seem only suited to asses whether you will be able to become a physician in a very practical way. I think its uncontroversial to say academic metrics inform poorly on what kind of physician a student will become (beyond work ethic), which I actually think might be to our benefit–I’ll flesh this thought out after stating the first and weakest reason to support the assertion the MMI is a poor asessment method. Students only come to find they are weak at MMIs in the very final step of a lengthy and expensive process. It is damaging to the applicants to find out so late in the process that we may not be able to continue.

            Secondly, I worry that a tool such as the MMI as it is presently applied across North America necessarily creates a homogeneity that might be deleterious to the future and evolution of medicine. Is it not possible that creating a system that attempts to produce doctors well equipped at a fundamental level to practice the medicine of today may actually hinder the ability to change and practice the medicine of the future–whatever that may be? Selecting for such specific qualities seems to me to parallel the questions we face with crisper cas-9 and the ability to edit the genome vs. treatment of disease presently. Yet the ethics of genetic engineering are broadly discussed while medical school admissions remain quite secretive. That said, compared to many other medical schools the Cumming School of Medicine should be lauded for its transparency and open communication. I must admit as an applicant that I don’t have easy access to the full research, aims, and information about the MMI so there’s a good chance that I am just wildly misunderstanding the tool and its purpose. If that is the case, I do apologize for my ignorance.

    • I am going to be posting an update momentarily and emailing something to people coming to interviews. I think it is reasonable to give people some idea of what the interviews entail, but I am not sure that having applicants not coming is “unfair” per se. We are pretty explicit about what we are looking for in our applicants. Check your email later today.