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‘The match’ is here to help you: CaRMS head

Medical students about to enter residency training need to remember one thing. The Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) match is there to help them, rather than a hurdle to approach with anxiety.

That’s the advice from Sandra Banner, the woman has overseen the match for 30 years as executive director and CEO. She described CaRMS as an independent, transparent buffer between student applicants and the directors of postgraduate medical programs.

“One of things I found ironic is that because the match is the point at which their career choice is optimized, they (students) often see that as the challenge,” she said in a recent interview. “They sometimes don’t remember that the match is there solely to make that process easier.

“It isn’t the danger point or the threat at all, and we have to do a better job of helping our graduating students to realize that we in partnership to make this as fair and transparent as possible.”

Banner said students should ensure they maximize the chances of being selected for their preferred program by exposing themselves to the proper education, and getting the support they need in medical school through career counselling.

She said the past 15 to 20 years’ experience with CaRMS has shown that of nine out of 10 graduates get “precisely the discipline they are aiming for … We choose the very best of the best as potential physicians, and they will prepare themselves for that decision point (the match).”

Reflecting on her time with the organization as she approaches retirement this year, Banner singled out the commitment of CaRMS staff as well as improvement in the way the matching process has evolved in Canada.

“I think we have a wonderful consciousness now that perhaps was not there before, to do things well,” she said.

Given that there are 800 programs now available for residents, with a large cohort of faculty who have a certain amount of autonomy, she noted it’s important to use best practices at every level in the selection process.

Banner said she is confident the process will continue to improve in future for applicants.

“When I came into CaRMS we were still hospital-based … and there was a lot of autonomy in the way hospitals were looking at selection,” Banner said, rather than the system that exists now with postgraduate offices at medical schools coordinating the process.

She said it was not until 1994 that every residency program – outside of the French-language medical schools in Quebec – were part of the match, and it became possible to impose national standards.

“That’s when we were able to say everybody has to abide by some standards of selection.”

However, Banner said there are still people who argue with some justification that the system is not flexible enough to accommodate the choices of those who may need to redirect their careers later.

She speculated that the move towards competency-based education may make it easier for those who wish to change their choice of specialty after having completed training in another area.

“I think we can hope for that.”

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.