Why you might not get into med school

Government caps set limits on seats

surgery

Hoping to get into med school? Great marks, tons of unique extracurricular experience, volunteer work, and high MCAT scores aren’t necessarily enough.

I recently read an article in the Globe and Mail (I happen to know the writer) that gave an overview of the whole application process. For med school hopefuls like me, it didn’t paint a very optimistic picture for Canadians. According to the article, due to government caps on med school seats, only a fraction of the qualified applicants to Canadian med schools are actually getting in.

If you were unlucky enough to be born in Ontario, your chances of getting in are the lowest in the country. The article mentions that in 2009, there were almost 5,000 qualified applicants to the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, with only 194 accepted. Given the fact that Ontario has more med school applicants than any other province, there’s a disproportionately low number of seats in the province’s med schools. In-province applicants to the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine, class of 2013, had about a 33% success rate, with 295 applicants and 98 students enrolled. The success rate for Ontario applicants to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine? Only 4.3%, with 1,845 applicants and 64 seats in 2006/2007.

It’s not much better anywhere else in Ontario. Applicants to the School of Medicine at Queen’s University had an 8% in-province success rate in 2006/2007, and applicants to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto had an 11.4% in-province success rate. As the article from the Globe and Mail points out, it’s the opposite of what you’d expect: Ontario has more med schools than any other province. But it has the lowest applicant success rate in the country, at 19%. Keep in mind, these are all excellent applicants, with high GPA’s and the qualifications each med school demands as a minimum to even apply.

It’s a little scary. For students working towards med school, the course of your future is riding on that application. But regardless of how hard you work to earn and maintain a high GPA, volunteer countless hours towards a worthy cause, and want to have a career one day in medicine, at this stage, so much is beyond your control.

Well, unless you move to Grenada. Or Manitoba.

-photo courtesy of salimfadhley




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Why you might not get into med school

  1. I think it’s *highly* debatable that even half of the applicants to a school like McMaster are “qualified”. They might meet the absurdly low minimum requirements at Mac (a 3.0 GPA), but that’s not saying much. The same pretty much goes for Ottawa and NOSM, neither of which require the MCAT and both of which cater to very specific regions primarily. That doesn’t stop people from applying to them from the GTA, even though not being from the Ottawa area, francophone, or from a northern and/or rural community makes it hyper-competitive.

    Anyhow, governments do not “set caps” to limit enrollment, but since they do fund all those spaces and there are limited resources, we cannot fund enough seats to suit the aspirations of every applicant (and nor should we!).

  2. Please use apostrophes properly!

    you’re is “you are”

    your is the possessive i.e. belonging to you

    “If you were unlucky enough to be born in Ontario, you’re chances of getting in are the lowest in the country.”

  3. @Josh:

    I always appreciate your comments, Josh. Thanks for taking the time to post.

    The main point of the Globe and Mail article, and the point I’m trying to get across, is that despite the severe doctor shortages across the country, thousands of qualified applicants are being turned away from med schools in every province. I agree that just because someone wants to go to med school doesn’t mean they should automatically be able to, of course. No matter how ‘qualified’ they are. As for the government caps, the issue here isn’t so much about funding “enough seats to suit the aspirations of every applicant.” Instead, more importantly, it’s about Canadians being affected by a serious doctor shortage across the country. Ridiculous wait times, long waiting lists for surgeries, and sometimes not even having a family doctor are all realities that too many Canadians are facing. And yet we have perfectly capable candidates being refused entry to med school because of government caps.

    Yes, ‘limited government funding’ is essentially placing caps on med school seats, because by not providing the resources for more seats, less doctors are being produced (despite a ready supply of potential future doctors).

    Of course, as the Globe article highlights, it’s not a matter of simply plopping a couple hundred new seats into each med school. With more med students, you need more instructors, more classrooms, more labs… it’s a serious ripple effect.

    The question that Canadians need to ask themselves is this: is solving the doctor shortage worth increased health care costs? We’re so proud of our socialized medicine, but as long as any Canadian is enduring unacceptable wait times for any serious medical treatment, something has to change.

  4. The mainstream media often suggests that Canada is suffering from a physician shortage, though many health scientists are wondering if that’s actually the case. It seems that any inefficiency in our health care system (i.e., wait times, access to care in rural communities) is simply attributed to not having enough physicians and surgeons, and that training more of them will resolves these issues. Increasing the physician and surgeon pool, however, will not encourage them to practice in rural communities, or promote a system that is more sustainable and cost-effective in the future, two major concerns that healthcare managers and policy makers are struggling to address.

    Each of the provinces are developing and implementing measures to improve the delivery of health care services, and these measures include increasing the number of medical school spots. Other changes involve fast-tracking the approval of foreign credentials for healthcare professionals, and starting nurse practitioner-led clinics in rural communities. So, there are certainly problems with the Canadian healthcare systems, particularly in terms of access to health care services and inefficiencies in health care delivery, but an increase in the number of physicians might not be the answer. And while it’s very noble of the author to suggest that no Canadian should endure wait times, the reality is that wait times will always exist in a publicly-funded system where care is allocated based on need. “Unacceptable wait times” and “serious medical treatment” can be interpreted in many ways, but in a system that functions on the basis of need, there will always be groups of people who find the wait times unacceptable (e.g., those who want care but do not need it).

    I certainly agree with the author that changes are needed, but I disagree that increasing Canadian medical school spots and boosting health care expenditures are the answers. People should recognize that the provinces are constantly exploring and introducing changes to address these problems, in collaboration with Canada’s world-renowned experts in health services and policy research.

  5. Med school spots have increased considerably in number since 2000, something on the order of 30% (or higher). There is no “severe” shortage – not by a long shot. Wait times for elective surgery, for example, have little to do with the number of surgeons (or anesthetists!), but with a lack of operating time. There IS a shortage of OR nurses, however. Training new physicians is very expensive and it is entirely reasonable to limit spaces. It *should* be very competitive and in the face of limited resources, there will inevitably be applicants who are not successful. Policy on this issue should not and cannot be based on satisfying the aspirations of all or even most applicants, as unfair as it may seem.

  6. Great read Scott,
    Hope you get into the school of your choice, you deserve it!

  7. Yeah. A lot of qualified people apply and don’t get in. And if they don’t, they often end up in the US. I interviewed at a bunch of American school a few months ago… and in each case I met a few Canadians. Some of them even declined to apply to our schools and are aiming solely for their favorite American Med School. Some of them will definitely make it into US schools. Will they come back for residency and work? I’m unsure. But that’s a risk that we collectively take. I just hope that Scott doesn’t give up on Ontario or other Canadian schools.

  8. Ahhh crap. The very anal Editor is gonna get me for botching some stuff above.

  9. It makes make angry that the government would put such a low cap on spots due to limited funding. What funding? the students are paying $20,000 or so per year! How much more is the government putting in that they can’t afford to open up more spots??

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