“I want to be a doctor.”
If this applies to you, then you may have been among the thousands of people who had the pleasure of going through the grueling and exhausting process of applying to medical school.
The deadline for the Ontario Medical School Application Service (OMSAS) application passed only a couple of weeks ago on October 2. I can only imagine all of the scrambling that must have happened as the deadline approached. The deadline last year was October 1, so I’m guessing they gave an extra day this year just for the procrastinators.
Don’t take that to mean that some people are submitting their application at the last moment just because of laziness or a lack of organization. The OMSAS application is no joke. But it goes beyond simply sending in your transcripts to medical schools along with a letter about why you want to be a doctor. In fact, it can take years of planning, hard work, and dedication.
The application really starts when you have decided you want to be a doctor. From that point on, you have to study hard to get a high GPA, prepare for and write the MCAT — and rewrite the MCAT — enlist yourself in a variety of volunteer, extracurricular, and research activities, and ask for letters of recommendation. Actually writing and filling out the application can be quite challenging as well.
It starts off with simple personal information questions like your date of birth, citizenship status, and where you lived while attending high school. Though they may have been trying to ease us into the application with these early questions, it made me uneasy when I applied that where I lived during my high school years wasn’t going to give me an advantage. The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry gives preference to southwestern Ontario applicants and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine gives preference to applicants from rural northern Ontario. Unfortunately, I was from neither of those areas.
Next, the application asks for a detailed autobiographical sketch. This is where you tell your life story and explain every activity you’ve done since you were 16. They have several categories for you to select from, including Formal Education, Employment, Volunteering, Extracurricular, Research, Awards, and Other. If you’re particularly lacking experience in one of these categories, you may feel your heart sink. Mine sure did.
You’ll have the pleasure of describing each activity in greater detail, but with only 150 characters, which is less than the number of characters in this sentence. This can be difficult when you have to give the admissions committee a better understanding of what you did and what your role was, and at the same time explain how you demonstrated the attributes and personal characteristics they look for in future doctors.
It doesn’t stop there — you’ll have to find a verifier for every activity. The application asks for the verifier’s name, address, and phone number. For one of the activities I had listed, I remember that the only verifier I could ask was a girl I didn’t know too well. I felt like a bit of a creep asking her for her address and phone number, but thankfully, she was very nice about it.
Once you’ve finished filling out that behemoth, there will be essays to write. The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine will be the school asking these remarkably tough essay questions. You’ll be asked to demonstrate that you are a scholar, professional, communicator or collaborator, and advocate — these are the four clusters that medical schools look for.
When it comes to transcripts, even though you’ll be submitting them, you’re still required to manually enter into the application every course code and each grade you received during university.
After finally submitting the application, you can take a breath of relief — sort of. Depending on the schools you apply to, you might also have to write the CASPer test in about a month’s time. Then, of course, there are the interviews, but I’ll leave that for another time.
I personally know and have seen many people who are now in medical school face numerous rejections, rewrite the MCAT, take a fifth year to boost their GPA, and the like. They all eventually succeeded, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get in on your first attempt. Good luck.