“I might want to be a doctor”, you say to yourself. Good news! You can be - no matter what stage of life you’re in. However, the journey to medical school is lengthy. It’s also competitive as more people than ever aspire to be physicians. I’d like to break down the main steps of the journey, provide some tips for each one, and then give my own perspective. The notes below are primarily my opinion. Admissions, for medicine or otherwise, are mostly an art form rather than science.
It might sound obvious but the first step? Look at each program’s admission requirements. While every medical school is good, the admissions requirements do vary from school to school. Some schools require numerous undergraduate courses in biochemistry, organic chemistry, biology, and related topics; others do not. Some schools emphasize non-academic achievements, while others will use grade point average (GPA) as a hard cut-off. [0, 1] are useful starting points, as they compare multiple Canadian schools’ admission requirements. That said, you’ll have to do your own due diligence - they can change. Schools are explicit about course requirements and academic requirements, and many do lay out the criteria as best they can. Check the admission stats - these will be a nice litmus test for you. Did you know UBC’s acceptance rate in 2020 was only 11.3% from over 2500 applications? Once you have a sense of requirements and what you may need, plan out a timeline starting from when you’d like to enter medicine and work backwards. Some schools require all courses being completed well ahead of time, others will accept proof of completion after admission. Importantly, there are differences in admission requirements depending on which province you reside in versus which one you’re applying for (in-province vs out-of-province). Make sure to maximize your possibilities.
Key Point: Figure out what the requirements are, where you could apply, and plot a timeline.
Key Point: Attend an information session to answer all your questions.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam that covers four sections: (1) Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, (2) Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, (3) Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behaviour, and (4) Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. As it stands, the majority of schools require the passing of the MCAT. Some schools will evaluate your application based on specific scores of a section. The Wikipedia page for the MCAT is useful to understand more . Importantly, the MCAT is not offered in French, so certain schools will not require it for admission. Schools generally are also putting less weight on the MCAT than before - take it from a guy who scored below a 510.
Key Point: You’ll likely have to write the MCAT; double check.
[Optional] The Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics (CASPer).
This is a relatively new, 90 minute judgement test that a handful of medical schools are beginning to employ in their admissions cycles. It aims to evaluate interpersonal and critical thinking skills, in place of writing short essays. Only a handful of schools need this so I don’t dive into details but it is different from the MCAT. More information is available at https://www.caspertest.com/
This is perhaps the most tedious part of the whole cycle. Every school has their own requirements on what their application includes. This includes education history with transcripts, employment history, volunteer history, autobiographical sketch, awards and accomplishments, and more. It’s your chance to shine and show off who you are. A major point I like to include here is that all your activities are valid. You don’t need to create a student club, volunteer in a hospital, or run for president to get into medicine. Those simply demonstrate specific traits. Find cool stuff you’re interested in. Genuinely love photography? You can include it. Have there been any family circumstances where you were involved in supporting a loved one? You can include it. Played League of Legends competitively? You can include it. Firefight? Foster animals? Garden? Include it.
Taking the time to even compile all of this will serve you well. Think of building a “master resume” where you’ve got the details of who, what, where, when, and why for each activity listed. Incrementally building that will save you rushing to meet the deadline. You will often have to have transcripts sent to the school ahead of the deadline so be sure to add this to your timeline. The word or character count for each entry can vary as well. Generally speaking, you’re looking at 100 to 250 characters. Some schools also require essays, so give yourself time to write and edit these. Honestly, give yourself a month (or more) to actually fill in the applications depending on the number of schools. It’s tedious. You’ll procrastinate. You’ll appreciate the buffer time.
Your activities will generally require “verifiers”, or people who can vouch that you did the activity. They are not reference letters but someone who can confirm you did the activity. Start early, as contacting these people and getting their information to include in the submission is important and takes longer than you think. It’s common for verifiers to be contacted.
Key Point: Applications are detailed, tedious and time-consuming. Prepare what you need so it’s less of a burden come crunch time.
Key Point: All your activities are valid.
The Interview Day.
Okay, phew. You’ve made it past the application stage and landed an interview. There are a fixed number of interview spots, so odds are suddenly in your favour. Given that you’ve read the requirements for the school you’ve applied to, you know what type of interview they will perform. This can include panel interviews, multiple one-on-one interviews or multiple mini interviews. If you want to figure out what the structure is, attend information sessions and opportunities to chat with current students. You’re probably going to be stressed. Something might happen - snowstorm, coffee spill, late bus - and you’re just gonna have to roll with it. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
The Interview Questions.
Not all schools ask the same questions. Some focus on behaviour based interview questions while others will ask for opinions on difficult situations. They are all looking for how you think and how you articulate what you’re thinking. People don’t want to be served the “right” answer; they want to see a demonstration that you can consider both sides to a scenario, reason through it, and make a conclusion. Prepare for interviews by timing yourself, practicing with others or recording yourself. There are again hundreds of practice questions you could use and some people swear by certain books. I found that being clear and articulate, and less of my usual rambling self, made a big difference in how I felt my interviews went. That difference came from deliberate practice. Be informed of current events, political and cultural hot topics. Try chatting with friends, and hone your critical thinking skills. It’s important to have an idea about what’s going on in the world and around you. Beyond that, remember the interviewers have multiple hours of back to back interviews on the same day. Having a refreshing, not rehearsed, perspective might make a positive lasting impression.
Waiting sucks. There’s a big delay between when you apply (Sept/Oct), when you hear about interviews (Dec/Jan), and when you hear about admissions (May onwards). If you’re waitlisted, like I was on my 2nd time, you could wait until August to be accepted. Resist the urge to fixate on this. From the moment you apply, you have an entire year to focus on anything else. Do something fun with it. The online forums and gossip that happens is a pretty dark hole although some people find they’re beneficial. If you get accepted, congrats! If you get waitlisted, hold tight! If you get rejected, hey you’ve already done most of the leg work - might as well give it another shot.
- Your grades are hard to change. While one or two C’s won’t ruin your application, at some point your grade point average will become difficult to increase without significantly more courses. If you have the luxury of time, keep competitive with your grades.
- Quantify your activities. If you’re unsure how to describe an activity, try quantifying it. Numbers give a sense of scale and scope. How many hours did you spend, how many people did you help, how much did you raise, how far did you run in total, etc. At a minimum, keep track of the activities and hours you spent. Spreadsheet it!
- Plan your MCAT study schedule. It’s obvious, but something many applicants don’t consider. You don’t necessarily need to take an entire summer off from work or school, as for many people this isn’t realistic. Being disciplined in how you make your study plan, making it fit around your schedule, and adapting it as needed will pay off.
- Studying for the MCAT doesn’t have to be expensive. While many individuals will enrol in expensive commercial prep courses, or purchase new prep books from Kaplan or Princeton, you don’t have to break the bank. Khan Academy has a dedicated free course with videos and practice questions . Youtube has plenty of different playlists for videos . And, of course, there’s a subreddit for that . Check your school libraries as many have free practice exams or other resources. If you want to get books, Marketplace, Craigslist, Kijiji, etc are great for people who are selling their books.
- Financial planning. Medicine isn’t cheap. It’s certainly more expensive than your undergraduate degree. It’s not infeasible however. Banks will provide medical students with a hefty line of credit (on the order of $300,000 - $350,000 as it stands) at a reduced interest rate (prime minus 0.25%). There are numerous financial aid avenues including provincial student loans, federal student loans, and bursaries. There are seldom “full ride” scholarships where all your tuition is paid, but there are smaller scholarships that intend to help with the cost. If in doubt, reach out to the medical school and try to find out what financial aid exists.
- Have a sense of your “why”. There are many perceptions of what people think being a doctor is like. Do some due diligence into figuring out why medicine is for you. There are loads of satisfying careers where you can help people, serve others, apply your knowledge to interesting problems, and make an excellent salary with job security and reasonable hours (+ vacation). The application and the education are long in duration. Having some sense of why will make it more palatable.
- An Obstetrics/Gynecology resident once said to me “all paths lead to medicine”. No matter your journey, you can inevitably find your way into medicine in some regard.
- If you’re reading this, thinking you’re definitely not the “pre-med” that schools are looking for, you’re wrong. I’m not an individual with a traditional pre-medicine background. I did software engineering, never did high school biology, didn’t have the prerequisite courses - yet here I am. Diversity is becoming ever more important in medicine. Value having diverse experiences.
- Plan it out. Medical school is four years. Residency training after that is 2-6+ depending on if you take time off for a leave, do a fellowship, switch residencies, etc. You also have to be willing (or accept the fact) that you may be forced to move and uproot your life for training. Reconcile this long haul with your stage of life and how it may impact you. Think social support, family planning, time in school, etc.
- Preparing to go med school doesn’t have to be competitive or toxic. There are horror stories around what people will do to take others down a peg. Quite frankly - that’s useless. I strongly advocate for collegiality. You’d be surprised how small the world of medicine actually is, and you won’t know all the times being collegial will pay off.
- The forums. They exist. Premed101 is the big one. I didn’t know about them until after I got in. They really do not matter, at all. I don’t think the content is helpful unless you want to induce anxiety in yourself. Some people enjoy knowing the anonymous community and going through that experience. Your mileage may vary, but it’s not for me.
 Association of Faculties of Medicine in Canada (AFMC). 2021. (AFMC)
The Faculties of Medicine in Canada got together and put their admission requirements in one big PDF for you.
 Canadian Medical School Profiles. https://www.oxfordseminars.ca/MCAT/mcat_profiles.php
A website decided to not do a big PDF but one simpler table on admission requirements.
 The Medical College Admission Test. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_College_Admission_Test#MR5_and_the_2015_test
The Wikipedia page serves as a good introduction to the MCAT.
 Khan Academy prep course. https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat
 Crash Course MCAT playlist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnQe0xW_JY4&list=PLvfNUkrxmYTI42iXtWLiYkcR610IcOjxy
 /r/MCAT2. https://www.reddit.com/r/MCAT2/
Thanks to Talia Del Medico, Olivia Yau, and Dr. Arielle Roberts for their insights, comments, and edits.