Imperfect process

No standard assessment of academic accomplishment for medical schools

The creation of mini-medical interviews help medical schools with admissions.
The creation of mini-medical interviews help medical schools with admissions.
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t’s no secret to Dr. Anthony Sanfilippo that the Canadian medical school admissions process is imperfect.

The Associate Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education said the process is fair, but inherently misaligned. A student’s marks don’t always tell the full story, hence the creation of mini-medical interviews (MMIs).

Compared to other forms of assessment, Sanfilippo said the MMI process is a step forward.

“It’s better because it’s more aligned with the things we think doctors need to have,” he said. “They deal with situations that are ethically conflicted; they think creatively, speak clearly … and articulate their thoughts in a short period of time.”

The qualities sought in MMIs are part of a quantified numeric used to rank applicants and determine admissions. Losing ground, in Sanfilippo’s view, are the basic GPA and MCAT scores — still the base of acceptance in many schools like the University of Toronto, where MMIs aren’t required.

“Those two things are getting farther away from the criteria [at Queen’s], and the competencies I mentioned that you need to have,” Sanfilippo said.

He said that GPA and MCAT scores are moving farther away from admissions criteria because there isn’t any sort of standard assessment of academic accomplishment across undergraduate programs.

“A physics course at one university might be very different from a physics course at another university,” Sanfilippo said.

Disparity between programs and schools means GPA scores are less telling. Students can select courses strategically, but Sanfilippo vies for a more insurable fairness.

With 3,818 applicants applying for 100 spots, Sanfilippo assures the numeric is so diligent it actually ranks the final applicants from one to 100 based on quantified info. Personal qualities like age and living experience don’t apply.

“Queen’s is the only school in the country that doesn’t have a regional component to its selection process,” he said. “We accept applications from anywhere in Canada and we do not provide advantage to any particular place.”

Second-year medical student James Simpson was cleaning pools in California before he opted for medical school. His GPA was around 0.7 in 2000, but he got an interview and was accepted to Queen’s in 2011.

“I’m a non-traditional student, probably not like many others who apply,” Simpson, ArtSci ’04 and ArtSci ’11 said, who bombed his BA in psychology and aced his BA in Life Sciences afterward.

The 30 year-old said his marks were significantly different from 2008-11, which Queen’s noticed. But the same couldn’t be said for all schools.

“There are 17 med schools and each one has radically different admissions criteria,” Simpson said.

He said Queen’s and Western are schools with similar GPA allowances, but others like U of T are less generous in that regard.

“I did the math — I would’ve needed to do like 10 more years of undergrad to get [into the University of Toronto] — it just wasn’t possible.”

For many of the 3,818 applicants gunning for a spot with Queen’s this year, Simpson said it can be a “crapshoot.”

“Really the best way of thinking about it is just being aware that there is that perfect applicant and anytime you deviate from that, your chances drop a little bit,” Simpson said.

Sometimes it just takes seven years of undergrad, and some years in between, in Simpson’s case.

“But you’re not screwed — you’re never screwed in Canada.”

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