Each year, Canadian medical school hopefuls look across the border for their medical education. While there are obvious challenges (adapting to a different health care system, returning to a Canadian residency, and much higher costs), the higher acceptance rates at US programs (about 40% overall for US allopathic programs, as compared to just 17% in Canada) can make an American medical education appealing.
If you’re a Canadian considering going south for medical school, here are some things you should keep in mind:
1. Think about life after medical school.
Your future path will be determined by choices you make now. Do you want to return to Canada for your residency training? In that case, you should pursue allopathic medicine; Canadian graduates of US osteopathic programs are classified as international medical graduates, which puts them at a serious disadvantage.
On the other hand, if you’re happy to stay in the US for your residency, an osteopathic program could be a good fit. American-trained DO residents are recognized by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, smoothing the path for your return after residency.
2. Apply selectively.
Not all medical schools accept applicants from Canada, and those that do look at Canadian applicants in different ways.
A few allopathic programs consider Canadians but not other international applicants. These schools include California Northstate, Louisiana State, Mayo, Meharry, Michigan State, NY Medical College, Oakland University, University of Maryland, and UT Austin (2016 MSAR).
Others classify Canadians without US permanent resident status as international applicants. This requires demonstration of funding for the entire course of study (some even require that funds be placed in escrow).
Osteopathic schools are more welcoming: ATSU-KCOM, AZCOM, CCOM, DMUCOM, KCUMB-COM, LECOM-Erie, LECOM-Bradenton, LMU-DCOM, MSUCOM, NSU-COM, PCOM and GA-PCOM, PCSOM, TouroCOM-NY, UNECOM, UNTHSC-TCOM, VCOM, WVSOM, and WUHS/COMP (Canadian Osteopathic Association). MSUCOM even offers a special program for Canadian applicants.
To discover the specific requirements for schools that interest you, use the MSAR and contact individual schools. (Although there are lists online, don’t rely solely on them. Some are too old to have the newer schools, and many schools have changed their policies.) Doing your research up front ensures that you don’t waste your time and money.
3. Timing is critical.
The U.S. application season starts much earlier and runs much longer than the Canadian one. This means you need to:
• Take your MCAT at the latest in the spring of the year you intend to apply. Exam dates offered during the summer can be used, but delay consideration of your application.
• Turn around your secondary essays promptly (within two weeks of receipt, at the latest).
It’s a grueling schedule, but one that proves very important in acceptances. If you’re accepted, it also allows time (which can be extensive) to secure the I-20 visa required for study in the US.
4. Present a well-rounded profile.
Successful applicants have exceptionally high GPAs (American programs consider both science and non-science GPAs). Even DO schools, which tend to be less competitive, will require higher than average GPAs for non-US applicants.
Strong extracurricular activities (research, community service and especially clinical experience) are also critical. Since legal restrictions can limit what Canadian undergraduates can do in the medical arena, you’ll need to think creatively. Pursuing clinical missions abroad is a good way to gain clinical experience; working as an EMT or paramedic is another; volunteering in nursing homes is yet another way to gain meaningful patient contact. And if you have any opportunity to gain US experience, take it.
5. Choose references wisely.
Find referees who both know you well and are prepared to write about you in glowing terms. Evaluation letters are no place for Canadian self-deprecation. When you request a letter, provide a list of your highlighted accomplishments as well as a CV, and be as direct as possible about any specific areas that you’d like your recommender to address. In most cases, they will appreciate such guidance.
6. Apply for an MD-PhD.
Although these are very competitive, they are a good option if you have meaningful research experience and hope to pursue a career in academic medicine. Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTP) typically welcome international applicants. These are fully funded positions, which will help mitigate the current exchange rate.
7. Show your fit.
When secondaries roll around, be ready to give the schools some love. It’s not enough to cite generic facts like “early clinical exposure” and “outstanding faculty.” Dig deeper into their mission and philosophy, facilities, and specific offerings. If you can’t figure out what makes the school unique, then you aren’t ready.
It’s also a good idea to highlight any connection to the school/area. Did your research supervisor do postgraduate work there? Do any family members reside there? Citing your knowledge of the program as well as your local support network can help show your fit.
8. Prepare for interviews.
Unlike Canadian schools, most US programs use a traditional interview format that requires you to talk about yourself. If this is not something that you’re comfortable with, adding it to your early preparations will make a significant difference.
Applying to US medical schools can be a tricky proposition, but if you follow these steps, you’ll be in the best shape possible.
By Cydney Foote, Accepted consultant and author of Write Your Way to Medical School, who has helped future physicians craft winning applications since 2001.