Many smart, talented, and compassionate people apply to medical school twice (or more) before they get in. Oftentimes, students initially think it will be like every other challenge they have successfully conquered. But, it's usually a lot more difficult'even for a super-smart cookie like you.
Here's how to plan ahead.
Know the basics
The basic areas you may be assessed on are:
Not all 14 English schools and three French schools use every one of the above pieces of the application; however, most students sensibly apply to many schools to maximize their chances of getting an offer so you will likely encounter most, if not all, of these elements at some point.
Success strategy #1: Keep a file of everything you've done since you were 16 years old, and balance school with other activities that are meaningful to you. Also, keep a list of contact information of people who can prove you actually did these activities as some schools require verifiers.
Undergrad marks are key
Your undergraduate cumulative average is a major part of the application process, so grades below 75 per cent in any year of university might be disastrous to med school hopefuls. Unreasonable? I absolutely agree. But the reality is that application committees need quantitative information to narrow down the massive field of applicants to something remotely manageable. Your GPA and MCAT'if used by the school'are often make-or-break parts of the process, and both scores need to be absolutely superb.
Success strategy #2: Choose programs and courses you can do well in. Many students who want to be doctors enjoy science and complete a science degree but med schools don't require it, so choose the program that you can excel in and simply include med school prerequisites as part of it.
Test it out
When you apply to med school, admissions teams and interview committees will ask you the obvious question: "Why do you want to be a doctor?"
It's not an easy question to answer'at least, not in a way that is honest and yet memorable related to all the other applicants who responded, because I like science and I want to help people in their essays or interviews.
Those are logical reasons for wanting to be a doctor, but it would also apply if you were an aspiring nurse, chiropractor, optometrist, genetics counsellor, perfusionist, or occupational therapist. It's important to defend your reasoning with experience so that committees understand how you came to know that this is the right job for you.
Success strategy #3: Test out the role of physician by getting reaching out to the professionals. Talk to your physician or physicians at clinics and hospitals in your area and ask them about their daily work. Enquire if it's possible to shadow them for a day so you can really get a feel for their role. Think about what you learned through these experiences that has helped you determine this is the right career path. Suggested reading: So You Want to Be a Doctor, eh? by Anne Berndl.
Get the current, real facts
Applying to medical school is a long, stressful process during which you'll hear advice from your aunt who went to med school ten years ago and from your friend who's in second-year right now. You'll wonder whether it's better to do X or Y as you prepare to choose activities, apply, and interview. Although you may be influenced by other people's advice, also find the facts yourself.
Success strategy #4: To learn about what you need to get into med school, always go to the source. Trust no information except for what comes from admissions officers at schools. For Ontario, visit the Ontario Universities' Application Centre. For all other provinces, check each medical school's website during the school year and re-confirm your facts and important dates during the summer of the year you intend to apply.
Christine Fader is a career counsellor and author. She is a former physician recruiter and was a medical school application reader and interviewer for eight years at a Canadian medical school.
Photo: SORAPONG CHAIPANYA/Thinkstock