Dana is a Ross University School of Medicine graduate from Toronto. She went through both the US and Canadian matches and successfully matched into her top choice Canadian program. I interviewed Dana about her experience going through the match and the difficulties she encountered along the way. Here’s what she had to say:
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you professionally? Who are you outside of the hospital?
If I could describe myself professionally I would use the words inquisitive and dedicated. For as long as I can remember I have had a constant need to know how and why things work the way they do (growing up this was often to the annoyance of my parents). I’ve always strived to excel in any position I hold so I believe my dedicated nature has really found its niche in medicine. Outside of the hospital, I would describe myself and adventurous and thoughtful. I love to travel, try new things and for the most part view the world as limitless. I also don’t make hasty decisions and I place significant value on the relationships in my life.
How many programs did you apply to? How many categorical? Prelim? How many in the United States? How many in Canada?
Originally I applied to approximately 100 IM categorical US programs. I did not apply to any back up programs or prelim spots, against my medical school’s advice. I spoke with other colleagues and was aware that they applied to 150-200 programs on average, but my plan was to stay in large cities or close to the Canadian border. After only receiving 4 interviews in the first 3 weeks I applied to the remaining 150 IM categorical programs available in the US (this was a humbling and expensive lesson). The Canadian match was a few months later and after my experience in the US I applied to every Canadian IM program, I believe there’s 7, as well as a dozen Family Medicine programs.
What as the most difficult part of applying to both the Canadian and the American match?
I think the most difficult part was that each system uses a completely different application. This meant that I couldn’t just use the same documents twice. I had to rewrite statements of interest and reformat resumes, which is an enormous task. The letters of recommendation could be the same but I had to bother my preceptors twice to use two different uploading systems.
Roughly, how does the Canadian match work? Can you end up with both a Canadian and an American residency?
Luckily CaRMs (Canadian Residency Matching Service) match date is about two weeks before the US match date. This is great since your chances of getting into a Canadian program are much poorer than a US program so ideally you would want to try this route first and use the US match as a backup if it doesn’t work out. If you match into CaRMs you are automatically withdrawn from the US match. You are also never able to find out how you were ranked in the US match.
How did you end up ranking your programs? Would you have rather gone to your least favorite Canadian program over your top American program?
It was a difficult choice deciding how to rank my programs since being close to home, Toronto, was important to me but also the quality of the program. In the end I ended up ranking my first choice US program as the one that I believed was the best place to be academically, which happened to be the second closest geographically to my home in Canada. When I submitted my rank list for CaRMs I reluctantly ranked a program that was across the country, but did so based solely on the fact it was in Canada. If I would have matched at this program I would have been automatically withdrawn from the US match, as I mentioned earlier, so I knew that would mean giving up my first choice US program. This was definitely the most difficult decision I had to make in all of my ranking.
How many interviews did you go on in the end? How many in the US? In Canada?
In the end I was invited to 7 interviews in the US and 2 interviews in Canada. Some of these interviews were in very undesirable locations for me, but I felt it was good practice to keep all my options open since I was not invited to a lot of interviews. In the end I ranked them all.
Any crazy stories from the interview trail?
At the end of one of my interviews I realized my middle button of my blouse was undone. No idea how long that was like that for.
What did you find to be the most frustrating part of the interview process?
The days were way more exhausting than I expected them to be. The travelling combined with the anxiety about the day really gets to you after a while. A couple of my interviews started at 7am for morning rounds and didn’t end until 3 or 4pm. These days were long enough without having to also roll out my charm for 8 hours straight.
Do you feel that coming from a Caribbean medical school hindered your chances to match back home in Canada?
Yes, but I don’t think my chances would have been any better coming from a US or European school. The Canadian match first and foremost ensures all of its Canadian graduates have a residency. There are designated spots for international medical graduates (IMG’s) in the CaRMs match, but they are very few for very many.
What do you think were your greatest strengths about your application? What set you apart from the other applicants?
I believe my work experience prior to Ross University was a strong point of my application; most programs asked about this during the interview process. I also made it a priority in my personal statement to express the hardships that came along with studying in a third world country and in constantly relocating during clinical years. In the end I believe that the impression I left on the staff during an elective rotation is what set me apart from the other applicants.
In contrast, what were your greatest weaknesses about your application?
A big weakness in my application was my USMLE Step 1 score. I was having personal troubles and knew going into the exam I was not as prepared as I should be. In hind sight I also wish I spent more time on my personal statement. I left it until the last minute and did not allow time to have people proof read it and critique it.
How did you do on the USMLE’s? What were your step scores? Do you think your step scores negatively/positively affected the number of interviews your received?
My USMLE Step 1 score was a full standard deviation below average, which I am disappointed with and believe negatively affected my interview invitations. I worked hard to redeem myself on USMLE Step 2 CK and scored 30 points higher, which I am very pleased with. On the Canadian version of the USMLE, the Medical Council of Canada Evaluation Examination (the MCCEE) I received two standard deviations above the average, which is the score I’m most proud of.
What advice would you give to other international medical graduates who want to pursue residency in Canada ?
I would tell other Canadians that if they want a residency in Canada to just try! I heard countless times along the way that it’s impossible as an IMG to get a residency in Canada. For this reason I was preparing the whole time to get rejected, but I worked really hard and was one of the lucky ones. If things would have gone the other way I was very excited for my US residency programs and looking forward to spending more time with our lovely neighbors to the south. Either way I would recommend that you keep all your options open; being an IMG does not mean you cannot have the residency you want.
Thank you Dana for sharing your experience with the Canadian and US match process. Going through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) was frustrating enough for me at times so I can only imagine what it was like to do it twice. I wish you the best during your internal medicine residency and hope to hear more from you soon.
Next in the spotlight series is an interview with a family medicine resident who failed step 1. Subscribe so you don’t miss out!