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 education costs), the higher acceptance rates at U.S. programs (about 41.9% overall, as compared to just 20% 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 probably want to pursue allopathic medicine; graduates of accredited U.S. allopathic medical schools are eligible for the Canadian R-1 match.
Osteopathic graduates can apply for the CaRMS R-1 match as well, but not all provinces accept their training. There are also additional eligibility requirements for DOs.
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. And with the newly merged match, the distinction between osteopathic and allopathic doctors is expected to blur even more.
2. Apply selectively.
It’s important to deep-dive into the fine print of schools that claim to accept Canadian applicants. Alumni of the University of Kentucky and the University of Rochester are welcome to apply at these schools, but not other Canadians. Canadians who have completed 20 hours of science coursework at a U.S. institution can apply to the University of Cincinnati. Some schools, such as Mayo, Loyola University Chicago and Wake Forest, say that they accept Canadians, but the fine print requires U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. The University of Arizona accepts applications from Canadians, but requires that they hold U.S. citizenship or permanent residency by the time of matriculation.
Schools that accept Canadian applicants more widely still evaluate them in different ways:
- As international applicants who are subjected to more rigorous acceptance criteria and usually are only considered after U.S. applicants. Schools in this category include:
- Baylor University COM
- Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons
- Duke University SOM
- Howard University COM
- Keck SOM of the University of Southern California
- Medical College of Wisconsin
- New York Medical College
- Northwestern University Feinberg SOM
- Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson
- San Juan Bautista SOM
- St. Louis University SOM
- Tufts University SOM
- University of California Davis SOM
- University of Colorado
- University of Connecticut SOM
- University of Illinois COM
- University of Louisville SOM
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill SOM
- University of Pittsburgh SOM
- University of Utah SOM
- University of Virginia SOM
- Vanderbilt University SOM
- Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
- Baylor University COM
- “Canadian-friendly” schools that evaluate Canadian candidates in the same way as U.S. applicants (although state schools may view them as out-of-state applicants, who often have a lower acceptance rate than in-state applicants). These schools include:
- Boston University SOM
- Case Western Reserve University SOM
- Central Michigan University COM
- Emory University SOM
- Geisel SOM at Dartmouth
- George Washington University SOM & Health Sciences
- Georgetown University SOM
- Harvard Medical School
- Icahn SOM at Mt. Sinai
- Johns Hopkins University SOM
- Loma Linda University SOM
- Louisiana State University SOM in New Orleans
- Meharry Medical College
- Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
- Perelman SOM at the University of Pennsylvania
- Renaissance SOM at Stony Brook University
- Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
- Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University
- Stanford University SOM
- SUNY Upstate Medical University (Syracuse)
- Tulane University SOM
- Universidad Central del Caribe SOM
- University of California Los Angeles David Geffen SOM
- University of Chicago Pritzker SOM
- University of Hawaii John A Burns SOM
- University of Maryland
- Virginia Commonwealth University
- Washington University in St. Louis SOM
- Weill Cornell Medicine
- West Virginia University SOM
- Boston University SOM
- Osteopathic schools tend to be more welcoming. Michigan State University’s “Canadian Initiative” even supports Canadian medical students interested in promoting osteopathic medicine in Canada through special tuition rates and recognition as an approved non-Canadian medical school for the Canadian residency match.
For other osteopathic schools, it’s important to remember that osteopathic medicine is not well-recognized throughout Canada and you will most likely be limited to pursuing your residency in the U.S. Ultimately you should be able to practice, but there are a number of hoops you will have to jump through.
To discover the specific requirements for schools that interest you, use the MSAR (for allopathic programs) 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 schools often change 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 than the Canadian one. While it is possible to apply later in the season, to give yourself the very best chance as an international applicant, you should aim to be in the very first batch of applications. This means you need to:
- Submit your primary application as early as possible. For allopathic schools, the first day to submit in 2020 was May 28th; for osteopathic schools, the season started on May 5th.
- Turn around your secondary essays promptly (within 10-14 days of receipt).
This results in a grueling schedule, but one that pays off 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.
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-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 one 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.
5. Choose references wisely
Find recommenders who both know you well and are prepared to write about you in glowing terms. Evaluation letters are no place for 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 start rolling in, 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 curriculum, research, and student-led 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? Will you have a support system? 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 which often use MMIs, most U.S. programs use a traditional interview format that requires you to talk about yourself. If talking extensively about your life and your experiences is not something you’re comfortable with, adding practice time 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.
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- Navigating the Med School Maze, a free guide
- Financial Aid and Health Insurance for International Students, a podcast episode
- Medical School Selectivity Index