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Just What the Doctor Ordered

Just What the Doctor Ordered

The Insider’s Guide to Getting into Medical School in Canada
also available: Paperback
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“I got in!”

These are three of my favourite words, and I am fortunate to hear them quite regularly from the medical-school applicants I work with directly. I wish I could hear them even more than I already do. This is part of what has led me to write this resource: the idea that more students might benefit from the information, perspectives, and strategies that other applicants to medical school have found useful.

I hope this resource gives support and encouragement to your dreams of becoming a physician, and concrete ideas and strategies for success in a challenging process. I hope it will, in some small way, help you be the next one to say: I got in!


If you’re reading this resource, you are likely already aware of how challenging the process of admission to a Canadian medical school can be. If you are like many applicants, you may have already tried applying on your own, without success.

You are not alone. Most medical-school applicants I see have extremely high grade point averages, not to mention extracurricular and community activities galore. They tend to apply to many medical schools, yet receive only one or two interviews—if any. Many of the accomplished students who have sought my help are on their second or third application attempt.

How can this be?

I believe part of the answer lies in numbers. There are ninety-six universities in Canada with a total student population of about 1.8 million. Not every student hopes to become a physician, of course, but take a moment to think about how many students you know in high school or university who are thinking about medical school. When I worked at orientation fairs for incoming students to first-year university, the question I got most from students and parents was: Can you tell me what courses we need to get into medical school?

So, there are potentially lots of interested students. We have limited numbers of medical schools in Canada and limited numbers of spots available at each school. This means that the posted “minimum requirements” from medical schools don’t necessarily reflect the reality of a successful application in Canada.

When I visited a Caribbean medical school several years ago, I spent a week with several premedical advisors from the United States. As the only Canadian advisor, I was startled to hear some of the statistics that my American counterparts told me represented their students: grade point averages in the low 2s (out of 4), and entrance exam scores far lower than any I had seen in my daily work at a Canadian university.

I thought to myself: If the students I worked with had similar statistics, I could understand why they didn’t receive offers of admission. But their statistics were much better—even among students who were applying to Caribbean medical schools because they felt they couldn’t compete with applicants to Canadian medical schools.

The students I have seen in the last twenty years have, by an overwhelming majority, strong academics and good test scores, and contribute enthusiastically, consistently, and broadly in their larger communities. Yet, less than fourteen percent of applicants to medical school received offers in 2015–2016 in Ontario. This percentage appears to be similar across Canada.

In my experience, most medical-school hopefuls—whether they are in high school or university—are used to setting difficult goals and achieving them. The goal of admission to medical school, or the perceived “failure” to achieve it (if you have applied before), can present the biggest challenge you have ever faced. I have seen this challenge erode the confidence of the most stellar students, but I have also seen those students and many others persevere and succeed.


I’d like to tell you a bit about why I think I can help.

Over the last twenty years working as a career advisor at a Canadian university, I have worked with thousands of students, from first-year undergraduates to PhD candidates, in diverse degree programs from fine arts to engineering physics. My work has involved helping undergraduate and graduate students explore career options, consider related degree decisions, strategize about further education, search for jobs, and improve their career-development knowledge and skills.

During this time—in my university job and, since 2007, in my private practice—I have also worked with thousands of students hoping to become physicians. I have an “insider” perspective on the health sector from a wide range of experience. For example, for eight years, I volunteered as a community member on a medical-school admissions committee, where I reviewed applications and interviewed candidates. I was not involved in selecting candidates, and I do not speak for medical schools or their selection criteria (particularly since admissions procedures have evolved since my committee work), but I did screen many candidates and came to recognize qualities that, in my judgement, made some candidates stand out. I have also developed and delivered hundreds of workshops on applying to, and interviewing for, medical school and residency programs, and have spent eighteen years working with final-year medical students and international medical graduates applying to residency programs.

So, I offer you:

  • experience as someone who has read thousands of medical-school applications and coached thousands of students through application strategies and medical-school interviews (in my private practice, I have given personalized coaching to a hundred or so students—all, except one, have succeeded in getting accepted to medical school)
  • knowledge of the processes, terminology, and challenges of medical school and residency programs
  • stories of applicants who have struggled and ultimately succeeded in their goals
  • twenty years of coaching students to medical school and residency placements
  • career-counselling techniques to help you present yourself as an informed and focused applicant, and to develop crucial backup plans

And I offer you the experience of hundreds of thousands of hours working with students just like you.

However, I want you to be skeptical of any secondhand source (and that includes me and a long list of others: medical students, doctors, advisors, guidance counsellors, parents, and helpful books and friends). Only the medical schools themselves, in the year that you plan to apply, have the most current and accurate information or interpretation of a given “rule.” Be wary of people or sources (websites, campus clubs, mentoring groups) that make definitive statements about “rules”: the rules come from processes that continually evolve. Every “expert” (including me) is filtering information through their own lens. We are merely interpreters and not the source. Make sure that you are getting the information that you need and can trust. That means always validate what you hear, read, see, or suspect from the source—in other words, from the people who will take your application money and decide your future in their program.

To be clear: the source is each medical school in the year you plan to apply.

Repeat this to yourself! Chant it whenever you are tempted to take shortcuts and assume that someone else knows what they are talking about.

For example, your question might be, Does my human geography course count as a humanities prerequisite for medical school? The “expert” answer of a secondhand source is always: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. They might sound very sure of themselves as they answer your question—but what you should hear, especially with a question that asks them to interpret what a medical school wants, is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

You can listen to what the person says, and think of it as possibly true, but always remember it is only one perspective. You need to verify the information directly from the medical school itself. Yes, this means more work for you, but it is really important work to do. Pretend a patient’s life is at stake, because it is: you are the patient in this case.

This resource and other people will help you get information and ideas that can be very useful in your process. You can incorporate some of those views and advice (and mine) into your strategy. But always, always remember that what is true for them, and true for now, might not be true for you or true when you apply.

I wrote this resource less as a “do this, do that” manual and more as a “think about this, think about that” strategy tool. This is my biggest gift to you: a strategy to find your own “insider” perspective, which, in my experience, has produced the most confident and competent applicants in the end.


While my primary client base is university and postgraduate students, I do work with some high school students. I wanted to include them in this book because I believe that starting earlier in the process (without overly stressing our students) can be a helpful way to pace out an application to medical school, review additional career options, and ultimately have a less difficult and more successful application process, if and when the time comes around. This resource has a specific chapter for high school students, but also many additional strategy suggestions throughout.


In my experience, parents and other supporters often play a large and vital part in encouraging medical-school hopefuls, so that’s why I have included a chapter for them in this resource. If you are a parent, or have a parent or supporter who is aware of your medical- school hopes, take a look at chapter 17. I hope it gives parents strategies to help support students embarking on this process, as well as some information about what students might be facing as they do so.

If you are a student with well-meaning parents or supporters, I suggest leaving that chapter lying casually open somewhere, in a place they might trip over it. They want to help you and this might be a good start.

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Field Identification of Coastal Juvenile Salmonids

Field Identification of Coastal Juvenile Salmonids

by W.R. Pollard & G.F. Hartman
illustrated by C. Groot
photographs by Phil Edgell
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Correct identification of young salmonids will improve the accuracy of resource management information and lead to a fuller knowledge of the distribution and status of fish stocks. This guidebook will help you to identify young salmonids in the field. Fish identification requires practice, but learning to identify young salmonids can be an enjoyable and worthwhile endeavour.

Information is provided for 10 species of juvenile salmonids found in coastal BC watersheds. Regional differences occur in the appearance of fish, and their physical features may change as they grow. The range of characteristics is vast; this guide is limited to the freshwater rearing stages.

We have chosen to exclude brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) from this guide to avoid confusion with the widely distributed Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma), and due to the fact that brook trout are known to be present in so few areas on the BC coast. Other field guides should be consulted when sampling in a location known to have brook trout.

Interior regions of BC have salmonid species or races that are not found in coastal waters. You should exercise caution when using this guide for interior waters or species.

Taxonomy of BC Salmonids
Salmon (Oncorhynchus), trout (Salmo) and char (Salvelinus) are the three genera of the family Salmonidae found in coastal BC fresh waters. The scientific and common names of BC coastal salmonids are:

Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)
Chum salmon (O. keta)
Sockeye salmon (O. nerka)
Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha)
Coho salmon (O. kisutch)
Cutthroat trout (O. darki)
Steelhead/rainbow trout (O. mykiss)

Brown trout (Salmo trutta)
Atlantic salmon (S. salary)

Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma)
Bull trout (S. confluentus)
Brook trout (S. fontinalis)

Common names are often not consistent with the scientific names. The Atlantic salmon (Salmo salary is a trout. Cutthroat and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus clarki and O. mykiss) have recently been placed in the salmon genus. Bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) are char. We have adopted the common names used by McPhail and Carveth (1994).

Coastal BC fresh waters have relatively few native species and the fish most often encountered are salmonids. However, considerable biological diversity occurs within each species. These physical and behavioural differences in salmonids promote survival in the large variety of BC's coastal environments. For example, a resident rainbow trout in a small headwater reach of a stream may spend its entire life near where it emerged from the gravel and never grow larger than 15 cm. The anadromous form of rainbow trout (steelhead) will rear in fresh water for up to several years and then migrate up to several thousand kilometres at sea, where it can grow to more than 1 m and 10 kg before returning as an adult. Both forms are rainbow trout but their life histories are very different.

Identification Procedures
Users of this guide will find several pathways to identify juvenile salmonids. They include identification charts, colour and black and white illustrations, colour photos of live fish, and distribution information.

The Identification Charts can be used to determine whether fish are ,salmon, trout or char and the individual species. To confirm identification, the drawings and information in the Detailed Species Information pages provide summaries of physical features and distribution. The generalized distribution information is useful in determining when and where in watersheds the user can expect to find the various species. The photos show examples of how the features are expressed on live fish.

Pairs of species with similar physical characteristics (rainbow/ cutthroat, coho/ chinook, chum/ sockeye) are positioned next to each other to facilitate correct identification.

Few fish can survive being held out of water while the guidebook user goes through the identification steps. Please use the fish viewing bag provided with the guidebook to keep fish alive while identifying them. Do not overload the bag and change the water regularly to keep your specimens healthy. Careful handling will allow you to identify most fish without harming them. We recommend that you use a 10x magnifying glass to see some of the features on small fish.

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