Getting into med school

High marks aren’t enough

Even with high marks and impressive extracurricular experience, there are no guarantees when it comes to getting into med school. At least, not in Canada. The harsh reality is, there are far more highly qualified applicants than there are available seats.

The statistics vary from province to province, but as a med school hopeful living in Ontario, my chances are about 19 per cent (or 1 in 5). Yes, this is just a raw number–it doesn’t take grades, extracurricular activities, or MCAT scores into account. For applicants with high (or low) marks, or applicants who are involved in some sort of incredible medical research, the chance of success isn’t 19 per cent. But there are lots of students with impressive GPA’s, great MCAT scores, and plenty of medically-related volunteer work, and they’re all competing for the same number of limited spots.

How can an applicant stand out?

A few years ago when I interviewed Dr. Evelyn Sutton, assistant dean of admissions and student affairs at Dalhousie University, in an article for Maclean’s Professional schools issue, she remembered one successful applicant whose “unique” extracurricular activity made her stand out from the pack: she was a champion skip-rope jumper.

Some med schools, including Dalhousie, still want to see medically related experience on an applicant’s transcript. The important thing to remember: med schools are looking for “well-rounded” applicants.

I’m not suggesting that a med school hopeful should volunteer or suddenly develop a “passion” simply because it might improve their chances of getting in. After all, the admissions board can see right through that kind of act. Trying to be a good Samaritan just because you think it’ll make you look good will probably have the opposite effect.

What does this mean for the rest of us? How can applicants present themselves in the best possible light?

“Don’t be just a computer geek,” advises Dr. Barry Ziola, of the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine, “because computer geeks do not make good physicians.”

-photo courtesy of RambergMediaImages