Hello my readers!
I have been itching to write a post like this for YEARS. Now, I can finally do it! If you don’t already know, I MATCHED! I got into one of the best family medicine programs in Canada and my top choice! I am over the moon!
There are no words to describe how I felt when I logged into CaRMS and clicked on “Match Results”. For years I have seen “We regret to inform you….” I hated that word “regret”. Although this year my interview went well, truth be told, the “regret” message is what I was fearing. I did not want to get my hopes up too high and then have it come crashing down…..
My parents and baby were with me. I trembled and held my breath. Within a split second the screen popped up…
I yelled out “QUEEN’S! I MATCHED!” We all sobbed with happiness. I immediately called Hubby at work and shared the news, sobbing, trying to get the words out! I still cannot believe the intensity of how important this day is to so many of us. I have to pinch myself daily. The reality of it all hits me when I receive emails from the program saying WELCOME! 🙂
My story is pretty long and I have posted this up on a forum anonymously to help others. I considered rewriting the story in a different way so that I still remain anonymous on the forum, but I changed my mind and just used the same with a few edits. So if the story looks familiar to you, well…then…you found me 🙂
So here goes! Please note, this is really long but I hope it helps others out there and motivates CSAs and IMGs to NOT give up on your dreams!
I promised myself that the year I match I would write a helpful post. I wanted to share my experience as I have found solace in others match experiences. Reading them really helped me on very dark days and kept me moving forward in this CaRMS journey. Thank you to all of you who shared your experiences. This is going to be a long post.
Congratulations to those who matched this year. To those who did not match, I know how difficult it is as I have been through this myself for many years. There have been many tears shed, feelings of anger, resentment and a dangerous lack of motivation (all temporary!) Allow yourself a few days to feel those strong emotions and let it out, but make sure to regroup, review, reflect what to do in the next round. Matching in Canada is difficult, no doubt about it but it is not impossible. I always told myself “leave no stone unturned”. I kept adding and improving every year and I planned to continue doing this until I just possibly couldn’t see how much more I could improve my experiences and application before CaRMS season. I will explain this below..
So to tell you a bit about myself and my application:
CSA (Canadian who Studied Abroad)
YOG: 2011 (many years of applying to the Canadian and US Match)
Exams: MCCEE (355-360), NAC-OSCE (1st time <75, retake 75-80 old scoring system), MCCQE1 (<450 old scoring system)
Also completed my USMLE 1, 2 (CS, CK) and 3
Number of interviews since I began applying: 6 (2 in US and 4 in Canada. There were years I did not have an interview).
Matched in FM Ontario March 2020
What I did between 2011 – present: medical simulation/education, medical mission volunteer abroad working with underprivileged, clinical research, observerships, volunteer positions with the underserved populations, family medicine clinical traineeships for two years in British Columbia, completing my examinations, 1 publication, networking and meeting amazing people who helped me along the way!
After med school graduation life was definitely a roller coaster with many ups and downs. Year after year I was further away from recency of clinical practice and it was hurting my application. Looking back I must have made hundreds of phone calls and sent emails looking for observerships, volunteer positions, research etc. only to hear NO or no response at all.
My confidence was at an all time low and the high points in life came from people taking chances on me. One amazing day a doctor emailed me back and took me on for clinical research (volunteer) and for a medical education/simulation job. At the same hospital I built contacts and found observerships. I did this for several years and kept applying for residency but not even one interview from Canada (because my NAC was low). I was still very thankful for the unique experiences because I was able to make friends, socialize and it gave me something interesting to talk about! My friend helped me get an interview in FM in Michigan in 2015 and 2016 (same program). I went unmatched twice.
What did I do differently?
I reassessed my application and realized that I needed to make a major change. Observerships were not considered “clinical experience” and I truly felt bored. I was not allowed to touch patients, sitting there like a fly on the wall. I was so thankful to come across the BC clinical traineeship program on the UBC website. This would allow me to work with patients like a fourth year medical student! This was my opportunity! I left Ontario (my job, my family and husband) to move to BC. I had doubts whether this move would help me? Actually, this was the BEST decision that I made in my career since graduating from medical school. I even had the opportunity to work in clinical research during this time at a major hospital. During my traineeship at various clinics my confidence increased. I was able to meet amazing physicians, network, work with residents and learn so much!
I continued with my traineeships, clinical research and volunteering. Took the BC CAP 1 day examination. Retook the NAC exam. Attended interview practice sessions through various practice groups. I also had HFO (Health Force Ontario) review my application and CV* (they helped me remove a lot of unnecessary crap). All my LORs were from Canadian physicians. Applied to CaRMS and had interviews in Canada in 2017, 2018 but I still wasn’t matching. Then I realized that I really needed to make a difference in my interview performance. This is where I was struggling and failing. I learned from speaking to people who were previous interviewers that in Ontario the family medicine interview is weighed very heavily when it comes time to choose candidates. I spoke to people who had matched about their advice for answering questions and attended more practice sessions. Walked in confident in the January 2020 interview. Finally learned that I matched March 2020!
*HFO does not provide free sessions related to CaRMS anymore
What did I learn about all this?
The CaRMS process can be very consuming. Mentally, emotionally, financially. I thank my parents, husband, close friends and mentor physicians for pulling me through some of the toughest times in my life. I owe my success to them. Also please don’t put aside or hold off on enjoying and moving forward with your personal life. Looking back I am so glad that I got married, traveled, had a child and spent time with my family during these years. I will never get these priceless moments back. I enjoyed it with NO regret.
This year I also had backup plans ready to go. I had sent out applications to several programs so I wouldn’t feel totally lost if I didn’t match and had something to work towards.
1) Persevere: Getting into a residency program is a draining process. If you can see yourself only in medicine, please do NOT give up! I felt like I was being foolish year after year with no guarantee that I would get it. There was some gut feeling that I had, it made me go at it year after year. I am glad I did not give up.
2) Application and interviews: If you go unmatched, there is always something you can add – recent clinical experience/traineeship, clinical research, volunteer experience, make contacts, exams (retake the NAC) etc. Ensure there are no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in your application. Cut down on unnecessary crap in the application. For interviews get advice from ppl who have matched, practice with residents, practice with Canadian medical graduates, be genuine in your answers.
3) Take risks: if you are able to make a major change to improve your application – move to another province if you have to. At least you feel you are giving it your all!
4) Stay positive: Do not listen to people who tell you that you should change your field/stop trying. Instead speak to IMG/CSA residents who have been through these difficulties and have matched, it really gives you hope! They are so motivating! Back up plans are good to have but don’t stop applying.
5) Don’t compare your journey with others! I know this is easier said than done but I found that the more I compared myself to others who got residency right away, the more I dug myself into a dark hole. It took a long time for me to accept that MY journey is MY own and there was no need to compare. When I stopped comparing, I felt more peaceful about what I was doing.
6) All you need is ONE: knock their socks off at the interview. Smile. Be calm. Be confident and sincere.
7) Importantly, enjoy life: Surround yourself with positive supportive people and enjoy your life with vacations/family and friends/hobbies. Don’t feel guilty about this. It keeps us healthy and happy.
The CaRMS process can really consume our whole lives but don’t let it. It is only one part, although it can seem like our whole life it is not. I hope my story is motivating and will help you continue to pursue your residency dreams. Remember “Leave no stone unturned!”
Thanks for making it this far! Please feel free to ask me any questions.