Canadian Medical Association

Med school is almost finished and residency is looming, but first: CaRMS. Are you ready?

The match process can be one of the most stressful moments in your transition to residency, but we’re here to help you through it.

Playbook: Preparing for the CaRMS R-1 match

Members of the CMA Ambassador Program have put together a playbook to guide you through the entire CaRMS process, from start to finish. From the perspective of people who've been through the match themselves, it covers many key considerations that can help you to succeed at applying, interviewing and matching.

Part 1: Application and documents

Jump to:
Applying to CaRMS
Curriculum vitae and personal statements
Letters of reference


Applying to CaRMS

Allyson Dill
Author: Allyson Dill, MD
Family Medicine, University of Ottawa

student at computer

Start early

Deadlines can sneak up on you quickly and there’s a lot of different paperwork to organize and write.

  • The CaRMS match participation fee includes nine program applications. Be sure to make use of all of them! That being said…
    • Apply only if you would actually want to join the program and the specialty. Your time is valuable, so don’t apply just for the sake of applying.

Be true to your values

Ask yourself:

  • What qualities am I looking for in a program?

Is the cohort the right size for me? Is the balance between service and formal learning right for me? Will I be given opportunities to learn in different settings (e.g., rural versus urban, academic versus community) that align with my personal interests and that will support my career goals?

  • What do I consider to be “deal-breakers”?

Am I willing to relocate? If so, how far am I willing to go? Among other things, consider proximity to friends/family and the amenities of the academic campus(es), hospital(s) and community/communities that you will be learning and living in.


Tailor each application

For each program you’re considering, review the CaRMS program description pages in detail, as well as the school and program’s websites, to individualize your application.

  • The requirements will vary from program to program. Missing subtle differences could result in your application being filtered out.
  • Be mindful of the maximum word count for applications, be sure to answer all questions and do not forget to proofread each application with the support of someone you trust — especially if you’re reusing parts of your statements.

If you have questions, do not hesitate to get in touch with the designated contact(s) for each program early.

  • Many programs provide opportunities for applicants to connect with current residents. Try to take advantage of these offers to learn more about residents’ first-hand experiences.
  • Some program directors are also willing to connect with applicants one on one. Ask the program contacts if this is offered.

Applying to French/bilingual programs:

  • True fluency in speaking, reading and writing is an absolute must for these streams and you must be comfortable demonstrating your fluency during interviews.
  • These programs are based in communities where a strong command of French is necessary not only for patient interactions but also for navigating the electronic medical records, functioning day to day within clinical environments, and integrating into the local community.

Applying to rural/remote streams:

  • Be sure to familiarize yourself with each program’s application process for these streams. Some require additional materials or, in certain instances, a separate application altogether for each community to which you wish to apply.

Applying as an international medical graduate (IMG):

  • There are a limited number of IMG residency positions at each university and within each specialty and program. Each year, there are far more IMG applications than IMG residency positions; therefore, IMGs are significantly less likely to match than Canadian medical graduates (CMGs). With this in mind, apply as broadly as you can and consider applying to programs in multiple specialties.
  • Be sure to consider applying to French/bilingual programs (if you have the necessary language skills) or rural/remote streams if you feel that you may be a good fit and that you can succeed and learn well in them. These sites sometimes have fewer applicants (both IMGs and CMGs) and thus warrant additional consideration.
  • If you have not already applied through the United States’ National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), you’re strongly advised to do so concomitantly with the CaRMS R-1 Main Residency Match. Although the matching process is the US is also highly competitive, the probability of IMGs matching there is higher because there are many more positions available.

Establish contingency plans early on

While you’re working to obtain a residency position, seek opportunities to gain clinical experience in Canada to stay current, build on your skill set and maintain your confidence. For example, you might apply to clinical assistant programs, obtain a clinical trainee licence or engage in clinical externship programs or clinical observerships, if you can secure appropriate supervision. Be prepared for the possibility that you may not be able to obtain a residency position in Canada, despite your dedicated efforts. The chances of successfully matching for residency in Canada may decrease with each passing year. Think about what you’ll do if you’re not able to practise medicine in this country.


Curriculum vitae and personal statements

Amanda Chapman
Author: Amanda Chapman
University of Western Ontario
@ _aechapman

Your curriculum vitae (CV) and personal statement are the first introduction that programs have to you. Although it can be challenging to articulate in writing who you are as an applicant, both professionally and personally, and how you’re a good fit for a specialty or program (your “narrative”), this guide provides some practical tips and suggestions to help you in this process.

Remember that the documents serve very different purposes:

Curriculum Vitae

Showcases the breadth of your academic, professional and extracurricular experience, tailored to present your overall qualifications for a residency position

Personal statement

Demonstrates your motivation and commitment to a specialty and the specific program, including summarizing your “fit” for that specialty and program

woman writing and laptop


Getting feedback

When candidates write application documents, they often reread them so frequently that they begin to lose sight of the overall purpose. It can be extremely helpful to have someone you trust review your documents to understand how your narrative appears to someone else. Consider asking for feedback from peers, residents, faculty mentors, physician supervisors, university career services staff or friends who are not in medicine. You can even consider using a text-to-voice program to hear your personal statement read aloud.


Incorporating feedback

Carefully consider the feedback, but don't take it as the final word.

  • Each reader’s opinion of your documents will be based on their personal experiences, so there’s a large margin for individuality. Thoughtfully consider the feedback you receive and then decide how, or even if, you want to incorporate it.

Fix grammar and spelling mistakes promptly.

  • As you edit and revise your documents, you will constantly be rewording statements and adding content. Promptly correct grammar and spelling errors.

Keep multiple drafts going.

  • If you receive feedback that suggests changing a large portion of the text, consider keeping both the old and new versions to present to your next reviewer. When you rewrite content multiple times, you risk losing strong points in the process. Keeping past drafts can help you sift through the changes to determine which version best presents your desired narrative.

Personal statements

A personal statement is a less structured showcase of who you are than your CV. Personal statements often include stories to demonstrate applicants’ journey and experience in medicine thus far. Most importantly, your statement should present a cohesive argument that highlights your motivation and interest in that specialty, how you “fit” with the specialty on the basis of your clinical and personal experiences and why you’re interested in a specific program.

Things to reflect on

The following questions will help you to determine the story that you want your personal statement to tell and therefore what you want to include in it. Revisit these questions throughout the writing process.

What is your motivation to pursue this specialty?

  • Consider past personal or clinical events that helped guide you in selecting the specialty.

What experiences and skills do you have that demonstrate that you are well equipped for this specialty?

  • These can be formal or informal, clinical or extracurricular, and personal or professional.
  • Do not consider only technical skills. Your soft skills (communication skills, flexibility, leadership, etc.) affect how you interact with your work environment, team members and patients.

Why are you and this program a good fit for each other?

  • Customize each program-specific portion of your statement to demonstrate an authentic interest in the program. Do your research! Learn about the program, and then think carefully about why you want to be part of it. For example, speak to current residents or faculty, reflect on your experiences in the city and/or institution or while researching the program, think about the research opportunities the program offers and the demographics of the patient population it serves, and consider the personal or professional connections you already have with the program.

What are your career goals?

  • You do not have to go into a detailed discussion of your career goals; rather, consider your overall goals within the specialty.
  • Consider how specific features of the program can help you achieve your career goals.

Do you have any unique qualities or stories that are relevant to your application?

  • Emphasizing your unique qualities will distinguish you from other candidates. These qualities could be what stand out and are often discussed during interviews.

Structuring your personal statement

The structure of your personal statement is up to you. Here is a sample format that you can use to help organize your thoughts into a cohesive and comprehensive statement:

The hook

In the first few sentences, introduce the overall theme of your statement with the goal of enticing the reader to keep reading.

  • Applicants often include a personal anecdote, quote or memory that demonstrates their motivation for practising medicine or their interest in a particular specialty.
  • Avoid simply chronologically listing how your interest in a specialty developed.

Why this specialty

Present a well-rounded argument that shows that you’ve seriously considered why you’re motivated and committed to join this specialty:

  • Experiential motivators can include clinical or personal events.
  • Logistical motivators can include patient population, scope of practice, procedures, work environment, team dynamics or lifestyle.

Why you for this specialty

Demonstrate how you’re an ideal fit for the specialty.

  • When discussing your experiences, don’t list them like you would in a CV. Instead, selectively use them to tell a story about why you’re a good fit for the specialty.
  • Look at the qualities emphasized in the program description, particularly the CanMEDS roles, and consider if you can give examples that demonstrate how you exemplified them.

Career goals

  • Applicants often reference objectives or ideals for their future career, including research, teaching, working in an urban versus rural setting, or opportunities for additional training.

Why this program

  • Customize this section for each program by considering elective experiences, resident/faculty relationships, available support systems, program-specific qualities (schedules, supports, etc.) and city-specific qualities.

Conclusion

  • Summarize your overall strengths and enthusiasm for the specialty and program.
  • To create a full-circle and complete statement, it can be creative and enticing to link your ending to your initial hook, if possible.

Curriculum vitae

When approaching your CV, ask yourself, “If I were reading this CV for the first time, what kind of inferences would I make about this candidate?” Although you cannot change the experiences you’ve had, you can influence how a reader is introduced to your background. Therefore, be strategic in how you organize your information, your word choices and the overall aesthetic appearance of your document.

Possible sections

The following list includes information that you can consider including in your CV. The topics should be clearly divided into distinct sections. Remember that you ultimately control what content is included, and these choices will shape your personal narrative.
 

  • Education
  • Electives
  • Leadership experience
  • Teaching experience
  • Work experience
  • Research (including projects, presentations, publications)
  • Community involvement
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Awards and achievements
  • Professional development
  • Committees
  • Membership
  • Languages
  • Interests and hobbies


Describing your activities and experiences

Accomplishment statements: Rather than simply stating your basic responsibilities in a role, phrase them in accomplishment statements that incorporate the skills you practised in that role and the overall impact you had with your success. For these, consider including one or two overall challenges or tasks you faced within the role, the specific action(s) you took to tackle them and the result or impact of your action. This helps demonstrate to the reader the value and relevance of the experience.

Action verbs: Start each statement with a strong action verb that relates to the skill used in the activity.

Correct terminology: For each role, ensure you include your position title, the organization, the location and the duration.

Be selective: Any content on your CV may be brought up during interviews, so only include things that you’re comfortable discussing.

Organizing your information

Start off strong: Generally, readers devote the most attention to the first page, and their attentiveness can decrease as they read, so ensure you put the most relevant sections of your CV at the beginning. Consider what experiences the specialty/program values and structure the order accordingly (e.g., research, leadership, community involvement).

Be selective and purposeful: To ensure you maintain the reader’s attention, your CV should ideally be between two and four pages long. Therefore, be selective about what content you include. To keep your CV from getting too long:

  1. Remove outdated and irrelevant activities.
  2. Provide activity descriptions only for activities in which you played a major role.
  3. Be flexible about formatting, section divisions and orders, and font sizes.

Tailor when possible: Although there’s not much room for customizing a CV for specific specialties, you can be selective about the order in which you place activities and how you title sections. You may wish to highlight certain aspects of your background with a “Specialty-specific experiences” heading or strategically order research projects, extracurricular activities or overall sections.

Use reverse chronological order: List your activities from most to least recent. Consider removing activities from high school unless they’re significant or continued during your undergraduate degree.

Formatting pearls

  • Concise header: Limit your header to just your name, one phone number and a professional email (preferably school) — listing your postal address is optional.
     
  • Consistency: Be consistent with fonts, sizing, alignment, bolding, italicizing, lines and the format you use to indicate the time frame of activities — this makes a more cohesive and readable CV.
     
  • Balance: Keep everything well spaced out. Cramming too much text onto a page will make it difficult to read, but you should also avoid having so much blank space that the page looks empty.
     
  • Full pages: Avoid leaving blank space at the bottom of your last page (if possible), as this can make your CV look unfinished or incomplete.
     
  • Split content: Try to ensure that activity descriptions do not get split between pages.
     
  • Bold your authorship: For publications and presentations, bold your name so your authorship stands out.


Letters of reference

Harry Liu
Author:
Harry Liu, MD
Dermatology Resident, University of British Columbia
@harryliumd

Reference letters are one of the most important components of your application. Each program has specific requirements and preferences. However, when it comes to picking the right referees, there are a few tips that apply to most specialties.

Pick a referee who knows you well

When considering requesting a letter, ask yourself if the referee truly knows who you are, understands your strengths and appreciates your genuine commitment to the specialty to which you’re applying.

  • Letters from clinical supervisors are often preferred over letters from research supervisors. It’s better to select referees who can speak to your clinical skill set, your ability to advocate for your patients, your willingness to learn and your collegiality working within a team.
  • If you’re applying to a specialty in which you have not completed an elective rotation, consider asking staff physicians you worked with during your core rotation (if applicable) for that specialty.

laptop


Tips and tricks

When asking for a reference letter, it’s helpful to send referees your CV and your personal statement to help them tailor your letter.

  • Do not hesitate to ask referees what will help them write you a strong and supportive letter.
  • It may also be useful to share your rotation evaluation or notes on interesting cases you managed together to help remind referees of your time with them.

If you’re applying to multiple specialties, you can ask your referees to write a generic letter (i.e., that does not specify a particular discipline) so that you can use it to apply to multiple specialties.

Staff physicians are busy, so be sure to send out reference letter requests early (ideally at least 4–6 weeks before the deadline) to give them sufficient time to compose a strong letter on your behalf.

  • It’s not uncommon for letters to be submitted by referees very close to the deadline, hence there may be certain instances where your letter is not submitted before the final deadline.
  • Try to request additional letters from other supervisors that you can use in these unforeseen circumstances to meet the application requirements.

Part 2: Interviews

Jump to:
Preparing for your interview
Interview formats and strategies


Preparing for your interview

Amanda Chapman
Author: Amanda Chapman
University of Western Ontario
@ _aechapman

woman writing Unlike your CV and personal statement, your interview allows you to speak directly with program representatives and “pitch” yourself as a colleague they would want on their team for years to come. You should take time to reflect on your experiences and begin connecting them to the qualities you possess, with the aim of highlighting what makes you a good fit for specific programs. Below are some key considerations and advice to help you feel more confident going into your interviews.

Interview considerations

  • You probably will not be able to say everything you prepared for. With a compact schedule and predetermined questions, there is often not enough of an opportunity to discuss every activity, research project or clinical experience on your CV. This can be disheartening, but try to diversify your responses while focusing on your most impactful and relevant experiences.
  • You will be asked questions you have not considered. It can be tempting to sit down with a hundred potential interview questions and practise exactly how you might respond to each, but it is more beneficial to develop a general approach to different question styles and to practise responding in real time to questions you are unfamiliar with.
  • Every interviewer will interpret your responses differently. It is important to keep this in mind when practising as you will have to sift through the feedback you receive from different mock interviews and decide which suggestions to incorporate. Avoid changing your authentic answer to the point that you begin to feel disingenuous or unnatural, as this may show during the interview.
  • Hindsight is 20/20. Try to avoid ruminating over your answers post-interview and contemplating better responses. High achievers in medicine often fixate on what they inaccurately believe to be their worst performances and forget to give themselves credit for their exceptional responses in these high-stakes circumstances. Be kind to yourself!

Independent preparation

  • Review your CV experiences. Whether the interviewers have seen your CV or not, you will be asked questions that relate to your experiences — including extracurriculars, leadership and research. Review the significant roles you have played and practise your quick “pitch” on your responsibilities, accomplishments and skills.
  • Identify both successes and challenges. Classic behavioural-style questions call on you to “describe a situation when X.” Answers often involve either successes or challenges relating to different scenarios or skill sets (e.g., CanMEDS Framework). When you review your CV and clinical experiences, think of any unique or exceptional situations when you learned a new skill, overcame an obstacle or spent time reflecting on an event that will contribute to you becoming an outstanding physician.
  • Nail your “Why this specialty?” response. This will come up in some way during your interview. Practise different ways of describing your motivations and decide which approach feels most authentic, honest and complete.
  • Do your research. Make sure to research the specific programs and sites you are applying to. This will help you develop concrete reasons as to why you are interested in that specific program, similar to your response to “Why this specialty?”
  • Develop questions for programs. When you come prepared with two or three specific questions about a program, it can demonstrate a genuine interest. Consider what aspects you are interested in learning more about (e.g., program logistics, resident experiences, research opportunities).

Approaching interview questions

  • Take a moment to collect your thoughts. It is common and completely acceptable to take a few seconds before responding. Some candidates may elect to take a sip of water, while others will simply say “I’m just going to take a moment to think about that question” or pause in silence. This will not negatively affect your interview. It is more thoughtful and professional to pause briefly to come up with a plan than to proceed immediately and lose your sense of direction during your answer.
  • Ask for clarification when needed. Sometimes questions can be long, have multiple parts or have unfamiliar phrasing. It is completely appropriate to ask the interviewers to repeat or rephrase a question to ensure you have understood it.
  • Keep it simple. In each answer, stick to one experience or role (unless specifically asked for more). This way, you can describe in more detail the relevant factors, thus providing a stronger case for the skills you developed or the relevance of this experience.
  • Make the connection. Interviewers are not just asking questions arbitrarily — assume there is an underlying connection between the question and a skill or experience that would demonstrate your fit for the program. Incorporating this into your response can make it easier for interviewers to see you as their future colleague.
  • Demonstrate growth through failure. You will probably be asked to describe mistakes or challenges you experienced. It is important that you reflect on what you have learned from the mistake or experience and describe what changes you have made because of it.
  • Diversify the experiences you mention. Candidates often have several remarkable experiences they like to highlight in interviews. To help demonstrate the breadth of your experiential background, practise discussing different experiences in response to similar questions. This way, you can discuss different roles during the actual interview to show diversity, without repetition.
  • Use a framework that works for you. The Internet has dozens of acronyms for ways to approach specific question styles (e.g., STAR). Generally, these involve potentially repeating the question, explaining the logistics or context surrounding the problem or experience and then answering the specific prompt with the result and reflection at the end. There is no perfect way to answer, but it is important that you feel confident in the approach you choose.
    • STAR framework:

      • Situation – set the stage of the event or challenge you faced

      • Task – what was your role and responsibility

      • Action – what steps did you take

      • Result – the outcome you achieved (and your associated reflections)

  • End strong. Your closing statements on a question are often the most important and remembered. Summarize your overall answer to ensure that you have discussed every point you intended to.

Mock interviewing

  • Mimic the real interview setting. As much as possible, try to recreate the interview conditions. This should include virtual set-up, location, clothing and timing. This can help you become comfortable and adopt the mindset you will require during the actual interviews.
  • Have the interviewer take notes. It can be helpful if the mock interviewer takes notes during your responses as a real interviewer would. This allows you to identify the content that interviewers might deem the most relevant, while receiving constructive feedback in the process.
  • Practise answering on the spot. Have your interviewer ask you questions that you have not practised. Answer immediately, while remaining thoughtful, as if you were in a real interview. This will help you develop your approach to novel questions and learn how to think on the spot.
  • Practise full interviews. It is often appealing to practise question by question, debriefing after each one. However, it is also valuable to practise pacing through the overall interview structure. For example, going through questions successively will help you learn how to introduce a different experience for each question and tell a cohesive story.
  • Arrange for multiple mock interviewers. Different interviewers will recognize different strengths and weaknesses. Practising through the CMA’s mock interview program, with friends (medical and nonmedical), family, mentors and school programs can provide you with diversified feedback. Use the checklist below as a guide.
  • Record yourself answering questions. The benefit of virtual interviews is that video recordings of yourself answering questions will show you how interviewers will see you. Reflecting on how you answer various questions virtually can help you evaluate the structure and organization of your answers and your body language. It is also important to hear how your answers sound and to determine if they reflect what and how you intended to communicate.
  • Mock interview your colleagues. Being on the other side of the interview process can help you to relate to the interviewer’s experience. It will help you understand the pertinent aspects of responses that interviewers may focus on, including nonverbal behaviours. Appreciating how your colleagues tackle different questions can also inspire your own approach.

Mock interview checklist

Virtual factors

  • Full name present
  • Good lighting
  • Candidate is centred on the screen
  • Minimal Internet connection issues
  • Audio quality, background noise and volume have been checked
  • Optimal video quality

Nonverbal behaviours

  • Appeared relaxed and confident
  • Natural but not distracting hand gestures
  • Good eye contact
  • Maintained good posture
  • Facial expressions (friendly, enthusiastic, genuine, etc.)
  • Tone of voice was appropriate
  • Appeared to be listening and paying attention

Response content

  • Question was answered in its entirety
  • Relevant and specific experiences were discussed when appropriate
  • Context surrounding experience or project was well explained
  • Candidate connected answer to their “fit” for the specialty or program when appropriate
  • Clear understanding of the program and specialty
  • Referenced a breadth of experiences
  • Appropriate language was used
  • Finished responses strong

Response format

  • Pacing was not too fast or slow
  • Responses remained on-topic
  • Logical storytelling, easy to follow
  • Minimal filler words or phrases (e.g., uh, um, like, I mean)
  • Spoke clearly, at an appropriate volume
  • Responses were of appropriate length

Virtual interview best practices

(adapted from AFMC Virtual Interview Handbook for the Applicant)

  • The equipment:
    • Select a device with clear video and good sound quality. This may include using external headphones or webcams and choosing a computer or tablet over a phone.
    • Change your device settings so you are not receiving distracting messages or notifications during the interview.
  • The location:
    • Find a private, quiet location free from any distractions. If you live with others, ensure everyone is aware of your scheduled interviews to avoid disruptions.
    • Ensure your background is appropriate and professional. Avoid virtual backgrounds when possible, as this may give an “informal” appearance.
    • Test out lighting options before your interview to ensure it is appropriate.
  • Internet connection:
    • Check your Internet speed and consider asking those you practised interviewing with if their experience was optimal.
    • Consider keeping the interviewers’ and school’s phone contact information nearby, and sharing yours, in case there are unforeseen technical issues during the interview.
  • Professional attire:
    • As you would for an in-person interview, dress professionally from head to toe.
    • You may contemplate dressing up for only what may be visible on camera, but consider the possibility that you may need to stand up or move around.

Interview formats and strategies

S Fong
Author:
Stephanie Fong, MD
Emergency Medicine PGY3, Dalhousie University
@stephanienfong 

Harry Liu
Author:
Harry Liu, MD
Dermatology Resident, University of British Columbia
@harryliumd

woman having online meetingInterview formats will vary from specialty to specialty, from program to program or even from site to site. The CaRMS program descriptions will be your best guide on what format your interviews will probably take, but it is possible that you will not know a program’s specific interview format before the interview day. Regardless of the format, the interview is designed to evaluate oral communication, verbal and nonverbal skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork, relatability and critical thinking skills.

Interview formats

  • One-on-one interview: Applicants answer questions from a single interviewer.
  • Panel interviews: Applicants answer questions from a group of interviewers (typically two or three) rather than one.
  • Multiple mini interviews (MMIs): Applicants circulate through a series (typically five to eight) interview stations, each focusing on a different theme or scenario. Stations vary, but they commonly include standard interview stations similar to one-on-one interviews. Less often, stations may include standardized patients or actors, writing stations or ethical scenarios.

Closed file interview vs. open file interview

  • Closed file interview: The interviewer(s) do(es) not have access to your CaRMS file. In this format the interviewers will only know what you decide to share with them. Therefore, if there are aspects of your application that you would like to highlight, you will need to incorporate them into your answers.
  • Semi-open file interview: The interviewer(s) has (have) access to certain aspects of your CaRMS file, such as your personal statement or CV.
  • Open file interview: The interviewer(s) has (have) access to your full CaRMS file. With this format it is important to remember your application thoroughly. The interviewer(s) may probe regarding a specific experience referenced in your CV or an aspect of your personal statement.

Non-interview events

  • Meeting with the program director (PD): This opportunity may or may not be available for applicants. For larger programs it is challenging for the PD to meet with every interested applicant. Within smaller programs with fewer applicants, it may be feasible to connect with the PD before the interview. Strive to be interested but not overly keen. Some programs include a meeting with the PD as part of the interview day.
  • Interview information session: The goal of these events is for programs to highlight and showcase aspects of their program or sites (e.g., urban vs. rural). Programs are aware that most applicants are applying to multiple programs within the same specialty and as such want to give applicants a sense of what they would experience if they were to successfully match to their program.
  • Interview social: This is an opportunity to meet staff physicians, program administrators, residents and fellow applicants in a social setting. It is imperative that you behave professionally in all interactions as you never know who is on the selection committee or from whom the selection committee may seek input.

Types of interview questions

  • Behavioural questions: These questions ask how you have demonstrated behaviours, knowledge, skills and abilities. Examples are questions that begin with “Tell me about a time when…,” “What do you do when…,” “Give me an example of…” and “Describe a situation where…”
  • Situational questions: These are similar to behavioural questions but focus on the future and ask how you would approach a hypothetical situation. Examples include “What would you do if…” and “How would you manage…”
  • Knowledge-based questions: Depending on the specialty, interviews may incorporate questions that require some background knowledge (e.g., approach to a common condition seen in that specialty, or interpretation of a common investigation such as ECG or plain film) or questions related to medical or personal ethics. These questions may also present clinical scenarios.
  • Getting-to-know-you questions: Many programs ask questions that have nothing to do with medicine or your medical training experience. For instance, you may be asked to talk about your favourite movie or TV show, to describe who you would want to have dinner with or to talk about your hobbies.

Questions you should be comfortable answering:

  • Tell me/us about yourself.
  • Why are you applying to X specialty?
  • Why do you want to come to X program/school/city?
  • What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do you deal with and resolve conflict?
  • How do you manage uncertainty or ambiguity?
  • Describe a time you worked in a team environment.
  • Talk about a time you made a mistake and how you managed the situation.
  • Describe a challenging patient encounter and its impact on your learning.

Other tips and considerations

  • Keep an up-to-date calendar of all CaRMS activities including interviews, information sessions and socials. Add videoconference/meeting links to your calendar and be sure to include the time zone (and account for daylight saving time) to minimize the risk of scheduling conflicts.
  • Maintain professionalism in all interactions with programs. Although many of the individuals you interact with may not be on the selection committee (e.g., administrative staff, residents, staff), the selection committee may hear about poor interactions or red flags.
  • Be yourself! Programs are hoping to choose residents who will fit well in their program. If you are not true to yourself during the process, you may find yourself feeling like an outsider throughout residency.
  • Although the entire CaRMS process can feel like the control is in the program’s hands, remember that you as the applicant are also interviewing the programs. The match algorithm gives preference to the applicant’s choices. Just as you want to make a good impression on programs, the programs also want to make a good impression on you.
  • If you know someone who previously interviewed for the program you are interviewing for, consider reaching out to them as they would have insight into the interview format and expectations of the program.
  • Some applicants wonder whether they should disclose certain aspects of their personal life during the interview process. While programs are not allowed to ask about certain things (e.g., marriage status, what your partner does or where they work, if you are pregnant or have children), you are welcome to mention anything you feel could work in your favour. For example, if you have roots in Alberta (e.g., house, partner, family) and want to train and ultimately practise in Alberta, there probably would not be a downside to expressing this preference while interviewing in Alberta. It speaks to your commitment to the local community and the potential value of the program’s long-term investment in your training.

Part 3: Ranking programs and the match

Jump to:
Ranking programs
The match
Wellness supports


Ranking programs

Allyson Dill
Author: Allyson Dill, MD
Family Medicine, University of Ottawa

student at computer

Throughout the application process, as you have crafted your CV, written personal statements, practised for interviews and engaged in self-reflection during interviews, you have probably come to know yourself well. Use this knowledge to guide your ranking process. Below are nonexhaustive lists of things you might want to consider when determining your ranking order, including special considerations for IMG applicants and applicants considering the Couples Match. While you are reading this section, and before you rank programs, be sure to review the instructions on the CaRMS website. Try to keep these two key principles in mind:

  1. The match algorithm is applicant-proposing. Therefore, you should rank on the basis of your own preference, regardless of what you think the programs might do. You cannot “game” or “trick” the algorithm, so if you do not rank according to your true preference you may end up disappointed.
  2. Match results are binding. Therefore, you should only rank a program that you’re willing to train at for the duration of your residency. While it’s possible to transfer programs, this is not a straightforward process and is never guaranteed.

Common considerations

Location

  • Local health care system – Consider the differences between provinces and cities, including funding models, drug coverage, community resources and local supports.
  • Provincial housestaff organizations – Consider salaries and benefits (CaRMS has collated this information here) and advocacy efforts.
  • Language – Do you speak the primary language(s) of the region? If not, are you able and willing to learn it?
  • Culture – How familiar are you with the region’s culture(s)?
  • Urban vs. rural
    • Urban programs tend to be hospital based and have higher volumes of patients, whereas rural programs are typically more community based.
    • Urban programs tend to be larger and have a higher ratio of learners to supervisors, potentially leading to less individual interactions with staff, but they often offer more opportunities for diverse socialization and learning experiences. Rural programs are known for having smaller learner-to-supervisor ratios, allowing for more one-on-one time with staff.
    • Urban programs tend to be more academic focused and may offer more opportunities in research or to see unique cases, particularly at tertiary care centres. Rural programs may offer a wide breadth and depth of experiences in a close-knit community that’s often less focused on research.
  • Proximity to current location, hometown, family, friends and other supports
    • Are you able and willing to adapt to being away from the people and places you’re comfortable and familiar with?
    • Will travelling between sites be feasible?
    • Working in a very small rural community or in your rural hometown may provide more ethical and moral challenges, as you will not be permitted to treat family members or friends.
  • Amenities of the locale – Consider housing costs and availability, safety, access to food services (particularly if you have unique dietary needs or preferences), access to health services for yourself and your family, recreation options, education options and/or accessibility options.

Program features

Rotation structure

  • Block vs. horizontal rotations
  • Mandatory rotations
    • Do they align with the specialty itself?
    • Do they align with your personal and professional interests and goals?
    • Will they help you to become the kind of physician you wish to become?
    • Are there multiple hospitals (requiring commute time) or are rotations primarily at one or two sites?
    • Do learners have input into selecting supervisor(s) or clinical sites?
  • Elective rotations
    • How many blocks are available to residents each year? In total?
    • Are there options for longitudinal electives?

Research opportunities

  • Can longitudinal research be conducted in parallel with residency?
  • Are you able to take time away from residency to complete a graduate program?
  • Are there local faculty members with similar research interests or who may be able to mentor you?

Learner supports

  • Explore and try to connect with residents who are already in the program to inquire about options for support or their general impression of how supportive the program may be toward residents.
  • How accessible and approachable are the program administrators, including the program director?
  • COVID-19 precautions:
    • How has the pandemic changed the resident learning experience?
    • Are learners redeployed or required to provide service in COVID-19 designated units?
    • Is learner input considered in redeployment options?
    • What happens if a learner tests positive for COVID-19?

Gut feeling

If you’re not truly keen on a program before Match Day, you still may not be by the time Match Day arrives. Try to connect with current residents and recent graduates of the programs to which you’re applying. Phone/virtual conversations with them can often yield more candid advice than email.

After careful consideration of these factors, if you find yourself without a clear ranking strategy, try narrowing down your choices with a coin flip! If you find yourself disappointed with the result, ask yourself why you feel this way and reconsider your choices. This may help prevent some disappointment on Match Day.


IMGs

IMGs can be at a disadvantage compared with CMGs and therefore they must be very conscientious and mindful during this process. Consider learning more about the following program features:

  • Orientation period, assessment verification period and/or probationary period
    • How long does the period last?
    • How are residents evaluated?
    • What constitutes “failure” and what recourse do you have if you fail this period?
  • Return-of-service (ROS) contracts
    • Are these in place? If so, which regions/communities are involved?
    • How many years of service are graduates expected to provide?
    • What are the penalties for breaking ROS contracts?
    • Are IMGs required to complete their ROS immediately after residency or is it permissible to do a fellowship program first, before fulfilling the ROS obligation to the provincial ministry of health?

Couples Match

Couples are highly encouraged to apply broadly to maximize their chances of matching to their first-choice programs. Remember that if you do not match as a couple, the algorithm does not consider your rank order list separately; therefore, you should rank, as a couple, every acceptable combination of outcomes. Ensure you start early and plan well in advance. 

Things to consider:

  • What is the backup plan?
  • What specialties are you and your partner applying to?
  • Is one of you willing to go unmatched?
  • Are you willing to live in separate cities? What distance is acceptable? Are there nearby community or rural sites that you can also consider for ranking?
  • Is it more important to match to the same location or for each of you to successfully match to your preferred specialties?

Potential strategies:

  • Independently create your own rank order lists (both an individual and a couples one) before comparing them to create your couples list together.
  • Create a weighted system that places greater importance on each person’s priorities and preferences (e.g., quality of education, local community, research opportunities) and then independently score each of the different criteria to create an “objective” score and rank.
  • Create a list of deal-breakers to exclude from rankings, such as “living x distance apart” or programs one of you may be unwilling to train at.


The match

Allyson Dill
Author: Allyson Dill, MD
Family Medicine, University of Ottawa

Match Day

woman writing and laptop

Match Day brings uncertainty. It has the potential to be one of the happiest days of your life or one of the most disappointing; don’t underestimate its impact. It’s common to feel a wide array of complex emotions. Even if you’re happy, there’s the possibility that some of your colleagues are not, because they matched to a lower ranked program or they didn’t match at all. Remember, it’s acceptable to feel happy and it’s understandable to be disappointed.

Embracing success:

  • Celebrate! You have worked hard to get to this point, and you’ve earned your success. Be mindful, however, about how you share the news as some of your colleagues may not have had a successful match.

Dealing with disappointment:

  • You worked hard to get to this point in your career, so give yourself time to deal with the news of an unwanted match.
  • Don’t let others to shame you into feeling grateful. It’s okay to be disappointed.
  • Seek the support of someone you trust, such as a family member, partner, mentor or therapist who will listen to your feelings.
  • Remember that although it’s not always simple and is generally discouraged, it may be possible to transfer into a different program.

Other advice:

  • Do not assume how others feel regarding their own match. If you’re unsure how a colleague feels, consider asking “How do you feel about matching to x?” instead of “Congratulations on matching to x!”
  • Similarly, saying “I knew you would match to x!” might cause someone to feel worse about their match if it’s not what they were hoping for.

Going unmatched

Not matching is not a reflection of your medical knowledge or skill set, nor of your ability to be a competent resident. It’s often the outcome of a system that’s influenced by many factors beyond a candidate’s control. Remember that you’re not alone: the total number of unmatched applicants grows each year. Seek out supports specifically aimed at unmatched applicants for additional guidance and recommendations.

Supports

  • Reach out to your family, friends, colleagues and mentors.
  • Your medical school’s student affairs office or university student support office can be a good place to explore your options.
  • Don’t forget to use clinical resources like your family physician or other mental health supports covered by your insurance plan.

Second iteration

The second iteration is essentially a highly condensed version of the first match, with the following differences:

  • Significantly fewer positions and specialties available
  • Significantly different pool of applicants, including unmatched CMGs and IMGs from the current year and previous years, transfer applicants and second-entry applicants
  • Significantly shortened timeline

When weighing whether to participate in the second iteration, you may want to consider the following:

  • Is there a position available in a program that you could see yourself training at?
  • What might change to make you a more (or less) competitive applicant between now and a future match cycle?
  • The unfortunate reality is that applicants are statistically less likely to match with each passing iteration after their first one, regardless of whether they participate in each one of those iterations or not.
  • If your medical school gives you the option of deferring graduation to take a “fifth year” (or fourth year for three-year schools), participating in the second iteration may be a prerequisite of this additional year option. Inquire and do your due diligence before deciding how to proceed.

Rules of thumb:

  • Apply early and broadly.
  • Accept the very likely possibility that you may not match to your top choices.
  • Remember that, just like for the first iteration, a match result is binding.
  • Have contingency plans in the event that you do not match at all.
  • Try to stay strong and be positive.

Unmatched after the second iteration

Reach out to your supports and consider your options. It’s important to remember that, in most provinces, you’re only allowed to see patients in clinical settings if you’re currently enrolled in a medical school and hold active liability insurance.

  • Depending on your career goals and if this is offered at your school, you may want to consider deferring graduation to enrol in an additional year of medical school.
  • Alternatively, you may opt to graduate and pursue other educational or career prospects, such as:
    • enrolling in a master’s program
    • seeking opportunities for clinical observerships or externships (e.g., British Columbia’s clinical trainee licence)
    • exploring alternative nonclinical careers such as consulting, medical education or clinical research
    • writing US examinations and applying to the US National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) next year
    • looking into the American Medical Association’s FRIEDA (if you have already completed US examinations)


Wellness supports

Stephanie Fong
Author:
Stephanie Fong, MD
Emergency Medicine PGY3, Dalhousie University
@stephanienfong 

Applying for residency is a very stressful time both for applicants and for the people in their lives who will ultimately be affected by the match results. There are national, provincial and local organizations that offer resources to support learners during the match process, as well as at all stages of medical training.

Resources

  • CMA Wellness Support Line
  • CFMS Wellness (with links to school-specific wellness resources)
  • Provincial medical associations often have a physician support program or physician health program that also serves medical learners

laptop


Playbook editors:

Majid Hussain, MD
Family Medicine Physician, British Columbia

Odell Tan, MD
Psychiatry Resident, McMaster University

CaRMS Interview Prep Program

As a member of the CMA and your provincial or territorial medical association, you have access to a free program where you can practise your interview skills and hear tips and tricks from residents who were in your shoes not that long ago. They’ll ask you questions, give you constructive feedback and provide you with the knowledge you need to ace your interviews.

The program runs from November to March. Members will receive an email inviting them to sign up as soon as registration opens in their region.

Not a member? Join today to secure your spot.

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