Inside the Canadian Medical School Admissions Journey

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PMY 573: Inside the Canadian Medical School Admissions Journey

Session 573

Meet Vanessa, a Canadian med student who navigated the admissions process with grit and grace – now she’s spilling all her tips on Casper exams and more on this insightful podcast.

For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

An Interest in Medicine

Vanessa first realized she wanted to be a doctor around age 12 after watching medical shows with her aunt and being fascinated by the fast-paced, exciting environment of hospitals and the impact physicians have through helping patients.

Vanessa’s Unique Premed Journey in Quebec

Vanessa shares that as a premed student in Quebec, Canada, her undergraduate experience looked different than the typical premed path in the U.S.. In Quebec, students complete a two-year CEGEP program after high school before entering undergraduate studies. 

Vanessa had to complete CEGEP in three years instead of two due to switching programs. She then completed an undergraduate degree in biology at Concordia University. That took her three years as well since she wasn’t eligible for the premed program due to her CEGEP completion time.

The Competitive Canadian Med School Landscape and Pursuing U.S. Options

There is a lack of medical school spots compared to the number of applicants in Canada due to a relatively small number of medical schools. Many provinces in Canada show preference for in-province residents when admitting students.

This competitive landscape leads many Canadian students to consider applying to schools in the United States to practice medicine. Then some potentially return to Canada afterwards to be closer to family and friends.

Considering the U.S. Medical Education with Flexibility in Career Location

Vanessa shares that coming to the United States for medical school did cross her mind if she was unsuccessful getting into a Canadian program. She considered the option of training in the U.S. and then potentially returning to Canada to practice. Another consideration was staying in the U.S. if needed to pursue medical education outside of her home country due to the competitive landscape of limited spots in Canadian schools.

What Made Her Secure a Spot at McGill

Vanessa believes what ultimately helped her get accepted off the waitlist to McGill was improving her academic record through obtaining a higher GPA in her second undergraduate degree in kinesiology. She also ranked in the top quartile on the Casper exam after preparing more thoroughly the second time.

Editing her CV to better highlight her strengths and fit for McGill’s program also contributed. The class size at McGill is approximately 204 students per year split between two campuses, with around 40-50 students on the smaller satellite campus.

Key Takeaways from Her Initial Rejection and McGill’s Admissions Criteria

Vanessa found the most valuable lesson from her first medical school rejection was taking the time to thoroughly reflect on and analyze her initial application. She identified areas that could be strengthened in a future attempt.

McGill’s transparency in their admissions process is commendable. The medical school clearly outlined the three categories – academics, Casper exam, and extracurriculars – that determined which applicants received interviews. They also provided percentages for how much each component factored into decisions.

Vanessa found this level of transparency quite helpful as an applicant, as it allowed her to strategically focus her reapplication on strengthening the areas McGill deemed most important. Understanding McGill’s criteria armed Vanessa with insight into how she could improve her competitiveness in each area. True enough, she ultimately succeeded in gaining an interview the second time around.

Contrasting Perspectives on Casper Prep

Vanessa and I shared contrasting views on preparing for the Casper exam that we have found impactful based on our experiences. While Casper’s creators advise against intensive studying, Vanessa found value the second time she took Casper by reflecting deeply on past experiences and practicing concise responses.

I agree that self-reflection is key, but you have to truly understand the Casper exam format and how applicant responses are evaluated during the scoring process. We both advocate for preparation focused on thought processes rather than memorizing “right” answers.

“You have to understand what it is. You have to understand how you’re being scored.”

Ultimately, individual strategies may differ but thoughtful preparation can help applicants feel ready to showcase their reasoning skills. Preparation should involve learning what skills and qualities the test aims to assess, rather than simply focusing on memorizing answers without explaining one’s reasoning.

Casper’s Stated Purpose Versus McGill’s Implementation

It was interesting to learn that while Dr. Kelly Door, a co-creator of Casper, advises against schools using it as a primary screening tool, McGill appeared to do just that according to Vanessa’s experience. She noted Casper carried significant weight in McGill’s admissions process, being worth 20% compared to only 10% for extracurricular activities. 

This mismatch between Casper’s intended purpose and how some schools like McGill apply it underscores the importance of understanding not just the exam itself but varying policies across institutions.

Common Myths That Slowed Vanessa’s Journey to Medical School Acceptance

Vanessa says she encountered a few common myths during her medical school journey that she found slowed her down initially:

  • Sacrificing her grades by taking on too many extracurricular activities in an effort to build an impressive CV, which put unnecessary stress on her mental health and academics.
  • Thinking extracurricular hours alone would make up for a lower GPA, when schools consider multiple factors holistically.
  • Pursuing additional degrees like a master’s or PhD after being rejected, rather than focusing efforts on strengthening her application in other ways like a second undergraduate degree.
  • Having a “Plan B” in mind too early on distracted her from fully committing to her goal of medical school acceptance.

McGill’s Accommodating Transfer Credit Policy

Vanessa greatly benefited from McGill’s policy allowing her to transfer over 45 credits from her first undergraduate degree. This enabled her to complete her second degree, in kinesiology, within only two years. Moreover, McGill considered only her higher GPA from the second degree for medical school admissions. 

Vanessa felt this transparent, applicant-friendly evaluation method was tremendously helpful. It directly improved her academic profile and demonstrated her ability to succeed at a higher level. She believes it was a key factor in ultimately gaining acceptance to McGill’s competitive medical program.

The Allure of Additional Schooling

Pursuing additional education like an SMP (special masters program) is a common knee-jerk response in the U.S. as well when students are initially rejected from medical school. It is very important to take time to carefully evaluate one’s application before assuming more coursework is the solution. 

“Take the time to ask around, reevaluate your case, and don’t just follow the crowd – what everyone’s doing.”

In some cases like Vanessa’s, strengthening existing academic records through a second undergraduate degree proved more beneficial than pursuing expensive and lengthy extra programs that don’t truly address the underlying factors for rejection.

Vanessa Reflects on Her Ongoing Medical School Experience at McGill

Vanessa shares that her second year of medical school at McGill has been going well overall. She finds the internal medicine block to be the most challenging compared to her previous rotations in surgery, family medicine, pediatrics and neurology.

While medical school certainly has its demanding periods, she seemed to be thriving in the fast-paced environment. She finds the experience fulfilling now that she has achieved her dream of attending one of Canada’s esteemed medical programs.

Vanessa reflects that if she could change one thing about her medical school journey, it would be to not put so much unnecessary pressure on herself early on. She felt getting advice from some wrong sources and taking on too many extracurricular activities sacrificed her mental health and grades at times.

“If you have a certain program (doesn’t have to be medicine) but a certain program at a certain school in mind, I’d really give 110% of that.”

Vanessa offers thoughtful advice for aspiring medical students. She emphasizes the importance of not being overly hard on oneself during the challenging application process, as persevering with a positive mindset is key.

Rather than an early Plan B, Vanessa recommends focusing fully on one goal program/school above all else, giving 110% to that initial vision. 

Only after genuine efforts have been made should alternative options be considered. Reflecting on her own experience with an early Plan B mindset, Vanessa believes prioritizing one’s primary objective is best for success.


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