Each year, Canadian medical school hopefuls look across the border for their medical education. While there are obvious challenges (adapting to a different healthcare system, returning to Canada after med school to a Canadian residency, and much higher costs), the higher acceptance rates at U.S. programs (about 40% overall for U.S. allopathic programs, as compared to just 17% in Canada) can make an American medical education appealing.
8 tips for Canadian med school applicants
If you’re a Canadian considering going south for medical school, here are some things you should keep in mind:
- 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 U.S. osteopathic programs are classified as international medical graduates, which puts them at a serious disadvantage when it comes to applying to Canadian residency programs.
On the other hand, if you’re happy to stay in the U.S. 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.
- Apply selectively
Not all medical schools accept applicants from Canada, and those that do, look at Canadian applicants in different ways.
Some allopathic programs consider Canadians but not other international applicants. Others classify Canadians without U.S. 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). Using the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), you can filter the schools’ admissions policies.
Although you do need to consider your future residency prospects, osteopathic schools can be a good option, especially if your stats aren’t particularly high. Some of them welcome Canadians, and MSUCOM even offers a special program for Canadian applicants.
When considering the competitiveness of your profile for a particular school, looking at the out-of-state numbers will give you a better idea of what to reach for.
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.
- 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.
• Create your primary application early so you can submit at the start of the season. For allopathic schools, the first day to submit is May 30, 2019, and schools start receiving applications on June 28, 2019. For osteopathic schools, you should aim to have your application in around the same time; schools start receiving applications on June 14, 2019.
• Turn around your secondary essays promptly (within 10-14 days of receipt). 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 U.S.
- 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-U.S. 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 U.S. experience, take it.
- 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 of recommendation, 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.
- 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.
- Show your fit
When secondaries roll around, be ready to show 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 to apply.
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.
- Prepare for interviews
Unlike Canadian schools, most U.S. 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 U.S. medical schools can be a tricky proposition, but if you follow these steps, you’ll be in the best shape possible.
Do you need help applying to medical school, in the U.S. or anywhere else? Explore our Medical School Admissions Services and work one-on-one with a seasoned application expert who will guide you to acceptance at the best med school for YOU.Want Cyd to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• Navigating the Med School Maze, a free guide
• International Students: How to Finance Your U.S. Education, a podcast episode
• What Do the Medical School Admissions Teams Say About Admissions?