One road to med school


I had the opportunity to meet with one of our ’09 grads, Colin,  this morning to talk with him about his path from high school to med school: he was just accepted on Friday to the UBC medical school. He will be starting in Vancouver in September and then moving back to Victoria to be part of the Island Medical Program, a cohort of 32 UBC students who do their training here. Colin was set on going to medical school as early as grade 10 and he had great insight to share with me about pursuing this path.

There were two themes that stuck out for me in our conversation:

  1. Do your research early and let that inform your choices along the way.
  2. Do what you love, not what you think you “should” do to gain entry.

In Colin’s research, he found that most Canadian med school admissions base 50% of the decision on academic qualifications, and 50% on non-academic qualifications. Doing well at university really is very important. But so too is your life, work, and volunteer experience. He says that landing co-op jobs in labs has had a significant impact on his non-academic qualifications, and gave him the opportunity to work alongside many students in medical school which gave him ready access to inside scoop.

At SMUS, Colin took 5 AP courses in gr 12 (Bio, Chem, Physics, Calculus, English) and accepted only the university credit offered for his exam scores in math and English; he took first year chemistry, physics, and biology courses at UVic so that he could have a percentage mark in the course rather than just the credit and no mark (some med schools look at individual marks in the prerequisite courses). Having the AP course in his background was a huge help in getting through those first year courses. He did all the prerequisite courses by the end of 2nd year and took the MCAT then (required for admission to Canadian med schools) because he felt the most prepared for the exam content. That was a strategy that worked for him – he only took the test once.

In hindsight, Colin wonders whether he might have enjoyed a kinesiology degree more than the microbiology degree he pursued (that speaks to theme #2). He volunteered at the hospital because he thought he should, but it wasn’t something he enjoyed; he did find another volunteer opportunity working in the field of mental health that he really enjoyed, as well as being a paid lifeguard (also great experience to talk about for non-academic qualifications). He said the length of time in a role was really important, not just an accumulation of short burst volunteering stints, and that a unique volunteer experience lent itself really well to helping an application stand out.

Finally, Colin talked about how, through his research and hours spent talking with others and on forums, he realized that different universities want different qualities in their applicants (goes back to theme #1). Knowing whether you stand a better chance as an in-province applicant, and how to maintain or gain in-province status, is really important. Being able to highlight different aspects of your educational, life experience (including travel and paid employment), and leadership is key to getting through the application process. Colin tested his resilience when he was unsuccessful in his early applications, but learning from that experience and changing the approach is one of the essential qualities in a med school applicant. Competition is stiff but persistence can pay off! Now Colin will figure out what kind of doctor he wants to be…his research has only just begun into that question.

If you are in grade 11 or 12 and want to hear more about med school, come to the Lecture Theatre during the next GTP classes (May 20, per 4 and May 22, per 3) where there will be a guest speaker on the topic with me chiming in, thanks to Colin’s input!


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