MD Program Admissions

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

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New MMI Video Available Next Week

February 12th, 2016 by Dr Ian Walker

Recognizing that the MMI sample videos we have posted on our website all feature fairly traditional MMI scenarios, we just finished producing one using one of our more recent “unusual” ones.  Unfortunately it is too big to upload here, but it will be available on our website sometime early next week.

Enjoy, and thanks to the volunteers who agreed to appear in the video.

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MMI Information

February 9th, 2016 by Dr Ian Walker

Seems I caused a minor tremor in the pre-med pscyhe with my earlier comment that our MMI was evolving a bit, and might not look entirely like the old stations we have posted on line.  Attached is a document that is going out to all interviewees today, and which discusses this evolution (amongst other more banal details).  The bottom line is that though the MMI content may not be predictable, it is certainly not random, and we are explicitly trying to limit the number of opportunities we provide applicants to provide us with formulaic responses.  Best of luck to all the interviewees.  Please kick back, be yourselves, and enjoy the process.

MMI Info Sheet for Applicants

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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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Course Transfer-ability and Eligibility for Admission

November 10th, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

Based on some correspondence I have recently received, it seems there is a need for greater clarity around of “MD/PhD granting institution rule” for determining which courses count in determining eligibility to apply.  As I have said before, there needs to be a little trust on the part of applicants that we are not actively trying to keep people out of medical school.  We desperately want the diversity in our student body that comes from having students who have attended a wide range of undergraduate institutions.  That said, we do need some kind of standard, and need the ability to occasionally say “No, that course is simply not academically rigorous enough to count.”  Therein lies the dilemma.

When we think about a standard that we can use, we need a few things.  It needs to be a standard that can be applied world wide, given that we get applicants from all over.  It also can’t be too exclusive, since there still needs to be a path to medicine for people who cannot afford or are unable to leave home to study in a large institution in another city.  That is an equity issue, from our perspective.  What clearly won’t do is to simply accept all courses from accredited universities, since accreditation standards vary widely in different jurisdictions, and suspect institutions are generally accredited by equally suspect accreditation bodies.

That has led us to our current policy, which is that in order for courses to “count” they must be either taken at an MD/PhD granting institution, or transferable for credit (generic credit is ok) to such an institution.  As we say in the Applicant Manual, we remain committed to the notion that students should be able to undertake their pre-medical education at a wide variety of institutions.  To be perfectly clear, we have neither the time nor desire to work through the transferability of every course for the hundreds of applicants we get every year from non MD/PhD granting universities.  What we need (and what we have) is a policy that allows the Admissions Committee the freedom to question (and in some cases reject) the academic rigour of specific courses or specific institutions, while also providing the applicants with clear guidance about what the standards are so they can make appropriate course selection when planning their pre-medical education.

It is impossible for us to create a comprehensive list of schools that we can “white list” and there are certainly some schools where most courses are acceptable, but some are not.  To be perfectly clear, however, we are not concerned, and will not be looking at specific course transferability for work done at larger Canadian primarily undergraduate institutions such as ULethbridge, MRU, Simon Fraser, UVic, Waterloo, Acadia, SFX, etc…  Unless someone can show us a reason not to, we are going to assume that course work done at these institutions is transferable to an MD PhD granting school somewhere.  If someone is telling you that your courses from these institutions is not acceptable to us, they are wrong, and you can tell them I said so.



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Applications for 2015-16 are now closed

October 1st, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

The application system shut down as planned at 4pm today, local time.

It looks like there are about 1400 applicants.  That is a decrease of somewhere in the range of 200 from last year, but we won’t know for sure until we eliminate the applicants who did not meet the eligibility criteria, or failed to submit transcripts, failed to release MCAT scores etc….

We have already had a couple of people in here asking for exceptions to the deadline due to problems submitting at the last minute.  As we have always done, we take the view that unless the problem was with UCAN specifically (not with VISA, or your IP, or the fact that you used Safari as a browser), there are no extensions to the deadline.  If we did not stick to our deadline, there would in fact not be any point in having one, so like our eligibility criteria, our deadlines are inflexible.  It is absolutely unfortunate for some people, but there is also no alternative from our perspective.

Good luck to everyone who got their application in.  Now the work starts for us, and the waiting for all of you.

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Non Full-Time Applicants

September 18th, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

We had a few petitions this year by individuals who wanted to take advantage of our new policy regarding non-full time undergraduate work. (see section 3.9 of the manual).  Keep in mind that the point of this policy was not to suggest that PT studies were as predictive of success as FT studies.  They are not.   There are applicants, however, who for reasons completely beyond their control (the ones we are most concerned about was health and financial) have been unable to complete two full time undergraduate years.  Our feeling is that there still needs to be a path to the MD for these people.  This year we received about 10 requests, and granted 4.  Important to note that the committee only granted the request when they were satisfied that the applicant showed significant academic ability and had bona fide reasons for being unable to attend full time.  Again, it will be very interesting to follow these applicants should they ultimately be successful, and see how they do in the program.

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What exactly is the “Alternative Admissions Process”?

September 18th, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

For the past many years, part of the admissions process has included a caveat, that we call our “areas of concern” policy, which states that we can decline to admit someone to the MD program, notwithstanding their scores on the file review or interview, if there is something about them which we find to be particularly unsuitable to the practice of medicine.  As we have increasingly recognized that the various scores we assign to applicants are necessary, but are not completely or reproducible metrics, and do not tell the whole story for many applicants, we have decided to apply a similar logic to applicants at the other end of the scale.  That is to say, that the Committee is reserving the right to admit some people to the program, not withstanding their file review or interview scores if there is something about them that we find particularly valuable for the school and the profession generally.  In other words, although the scores will still be the operative basis for decision making in most cases, there will be cases where the various scores will be taken into account, but will not necesarily be the only factor we consider.  We are, one could say, re-introducing an element of subjectivity into the process.

A few things of note:

  1. What exactly qualifies someone for consideration of the Alternative Process is going to vary from person to person, and is a decision that the Admissions Committee will make on a case by case basis.
  2. Applicants admitted via this process will never know that is how they were admitted.  Once in the program, everyone is the same.  We will, of course, follow these people to see how the policy is working out.
  3. You can’t apply for this process.  This is a call that the file reviewers and the Admissions Committee members will make based on their review of your application.  That is why it doesn’t show up in UCAN anywhere.
  4. We are talking about small numbers of people here.  For the VAST majority of applicants, nothing has changed.

When we first released the manual this year, there was briefly a little furor on pre-med 101, but I was really pleased to see that large numbers of applicants appeared to “get it” and understand why we were doing this.

Like everything we do, we will follow along and re-evaluate as we go.

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Information Session Recordings

August 10th, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

Unfortunately, there seem to be significant coding issues with the video and audio files from my information sessions that are currently preventing us from posting them on line.  We will continue to work on it, and if we get the issues resolved with post them ASAP.

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New Cycle, New Post

July 12th, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

I have been a little quiet of late.  Sorry about that.  Have had a number of things on our plates lately, including the lead up to our accreditation next year.

Our new cycle opened July 1st without any real problems that we are aware of.  A handful of apparently very eager individuals have already completed and submitted their applications.  One did so only 5 days into the admissions cycle!

Over the next few posts, I will covers some of the changes that we are implementing this year.  While our system is largely the same as it has been in the past, there are always a few small tweaks here and there where we try to make things better.

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More Reflections on this Interview Cycle

February 7th, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

Have spent much of the week reflecting on the unsuccessful applicants and their frustrations.  We feel for all of you.  We also know that the situation is getting worse, not better.

I think it is important to put some of this in context.  If you think about any kind of testing (MCAT, grades, or our attribute scores), they are really an estimation of an applicants “true” score – the one they would get under perfect conditions if everything were known.  As a result, there is always going to be an element of “measurement error” in the calculations.  Take someone who applied once and got a preMMI of 106.  Then they apply again and get 88.  Neither of those scores is more correct than the other, and the chances are that if they apply a third time, they would score somewhere in between the two.  This is the statistical principle known as “regression towards the mean”.  If they apply an infinite number of times, it will eventually become clear what their most likely score is going to be, and what the statistical range would be for their scores in any given cycle.  The same is true for an MCAT.  If you get an MCAT of 22, you might get a 36 if you take it again, but that is very very unlikely, and you are almost certain to be unable to do it again.

I think this is what happens in MD admissions.  There are clearly differences between applicants, which is why, despite lots of different systems at different schools, we see a subgroup of applicants who get interview offers at many different institutions, and others who never get an offer anywhere.  In the middle is a very large group of applicants who are good, and somewhat difficult to distinguish from each other.  Our scoring systems try, but it is a blunt instrument at best (if there is a better instrument, we would certainly use it, but no one has shown it to us yet!).  Built in to that distinction for the big “mass in the middle” is a certain amount of luck, and a bit of randomness related to who reviewed your file, how what you say resonates with them, etc…

Think about these numbers for a minute (they are either sobering, or depressing, depending on your perspective.

We had 1600 applicants this year.  Of those, there are probably about 200 at the top end that are clearly exceptional.  There are a similar number at the other end of the spectrum who simply have not amassed the experiences and skills that the reviewers are looking for.  In the middle are about 1200 applicants who we can all look at and say “yes, they would be a great doc.  We’d be happy to have them”.  Those 1200 applicants, however, are competing for about 300 interview spots.  In other words, right out of the gate, they have a 1 in 4 chance of getting an interview in any given year.  If they are closer to the top end, that chance might be 1 in 2 or 1 in 3.  If they are closer to the bottom end, their odds might be 1 in 6 or less.  I think when you don’t get an interview, the response really is “ok, so I lost a gamble that was stacked against me.  Do I want to bet again?” Given the cost of the bet and potential payoff, the answer is usually going to be “yes” but maybe not for everyone.  The more times you apply, and the more times you see the scores you got, the more easy it becomes for you to predict the odds of a good outcome if you apply again.  If you have applied 4 times, and never scored over 100 on the pre-MMI, then certainly you can apply again, but the odds are against you.  That is not to say, of course, that you can’t beat the odds.  People do it every day, but you need to be realistic about what you are doing.

These sorts of considerations are what lead me to make the recommendations I do to people who ask me about applying or re-applying to med school.

1. if you are going to do it, think of it as a 4-5 year endeavor.

2. Apply to as many schools as you can.

3. Once you have applied a couple of times and been unsuccessful, for sure keep trying, but DO NOT put your life on hold while you do.  DO NOT do an extra degree that you do not intrinsically value hoping that it will help your MD application.  Get on with your life, and build your alternative career while you keep applying.  Putting alternative career development on hold while you apply is sort of like chasing a loss in Vegas.

4. Try not to take these numbers too personally.  They are a reflection of what the reviewers saw.  There is this great expression that I once read that went something like this: “Do not compare yourself to others; it will only serve to make you simultaneously arrogant and insecure”.  If at the end of the day, you are an “average” member of a peer group (the MD applicants) who are amongst the brightest and most promising lights of their generation, is that really so bad?

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