MD Program Admissions

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

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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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For Interviewees Scheduled on the 28th

February 7th, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

So, as some of you already know, there are a number of applicants who were unable to secure interviews on the 28th, but who have already committed to interviews elsewhere on the 21 and 22nd (mostly in Ontario).  They are looking for people to switch with.

We have no ability or desire to coordinate this, but I thought I would put this out there as a forum to facilitate switches if you are trying.

There are 179 of you scheduled on the 28th.  For many of you, interviewing that day is a matter of convenience, mostly.  I can tell you all from our own data that there is no difference between days in the scores (i.e. interviewing the second weekend offers absolutely no advantage).  If you are ABLE to switch for a spot on the 21st or 22nd, I would strongly encourage you to do so and help out a neighbor.  For all you know, that person might be your future classmate (either here or elsewhere).  They might also become your department head, or the person responsible for approving your big grant application 20 years from now.  Don’t laugh.  Medicine is a small world.  All I ask is that no one start asking for inducements (monetary or otherwise) in order to trade.  Keep it collegial.

If you are willing to trade, respond to this post with some kind of method for people to contact you directly.  You will then need to arrange a very specific time to do your switch, because the moment you release your spot, it is available for anyone who might happen to be on the system.  I would recommend 4 am or some similarly ridiculous hour.

On behalf of your future colleagues, thanks for considering.

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Interview Offers are out

February 4th, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

Despite a minor IT issue that forced us to delay getting our offers out for a couple of days (we had intended to send them out on Monday), they all went out just before lunch today.

A few comments that might be helpful for people.

1. For those of you who were successful, congratulations.  We look forward to meeting you in a couple of weeks.  Know that the desirable spots (in fact most spots) fill up in a matter of 2 or 3 minutes after the scheduler opens.  Unless there is a technical issue on our side, there is nothing we can do if you are not able to get the slot you want, so get on there right at noon, or slightly before.

2. For those of you who were not successful, know that in the VAST majority of cases, it is not because there was anything wrong with you as an applicant.  I have no doubt that most of the our applicants would make great additions to our program.  There simply are not enough positions for the large and growing pool of aspiring physicians.  I would encourage you to think of getting into medical school as a 3-5 year commitment.  If you have not tried at least 3 times, I would not even consider giving up.

3. We offered 537 interview positions.  Of those 101 went to non- Albertans.  The cut off for getting an offer as a non-Albertan was higher, but as a max of 15% of the class can come from this pool, we have to limit the number of interview spots taken up by OOP applicants.  The rest (436) went to Albertans.

4. When I started this job, we interviewed roughly half the applicants.  This year, it is closer to a third.  For Albertans, it was slightly less than that (436 out of 1324).  It is a problem, and clearly results in lots of good people getting the door shut on them.

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Application Update

January 12th, 2015 by Dr Ian Walker

Sorry for having gone MIA for the last while.  Sort of got out of the habit.  I wish I had a better excuse, but sadly I do not.

Applications are almost finished being reviewed.  Of the 6400 reviews that needed doing, we have about 400 left today, and our reviewers have been given until the end of the week.  We expect to then be able to look at the scores, etc… and have a clear sense of who will be getting an interview the following week.  We expect to make interview offers (to the same number as last year – 537) towards the end of the month.

If your file status says “waiting for an interview decision”, or some such thing, it means all four of your reviews are done and submitted, and we are just waiting for everyone else to be done so we can do the standardized score calculations, etc…

The status will not change again until the moment we make offers.  When we designate someone in UCAN as getting an interview, their status changes, and they get the interview letter instantaneously.  Similarly for those who are not so lucky.

Best of luck everyone, and really, know that if you do not get an interview it is not because you would not be a good doctor.  The available spots are dramatically outnumbered by the qualified applicants, and some decisions have to be made.  Although it feels very much that way, it is not personal.

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