This advice was kindly provided by a student who successfully applied to the UBC Medical School in the 2016 cycle (and had applied before). The student, Nicholas Steinberg, may be available to give advice.
While very thoughtfully prepared by the student, you should of course read carefully the Medical School information for the school you are applying to. A number of students have gone from Math degrees to Medical School.
I took a longer route to medicine. I graduated with a B.Sc. in honours math
from UBC in 2010, but by my fourth year, I realized that, as much as I
enjoyed math, a career in it wasn't in the cards for me. A took a job in
software development and considered my options for a few months before
deciding to pursue medicine and re-enrolling in unclassified studies to get
some classes I needed (back then, UBC Med had a large number of pre-req
courses). I continued my job on a part-time basis, started in a few
volunteer positions to build my resume, and wrote the MCAT. I ended up
taking most of a second bachelors degree (in the Humanities program at SFU)
out of interest and to raise my GPA.
In 2012, I applied to med schools across Canada, and did not receive any
interview invites. In 2013, I applied only to UBC and the University of
Calgary, the two Canadian schools that gave me in-province status, as well
as some American schools, and received an interview invite to the
University of Calgary. In 2014, I applied only to UBC and U of C, and
interviewed at Calgary again. In 2015, I wrote the new MCAT (a requirement
for U of C) and interviewed at both schools. I was waitlisted at U of C and
accepted into UBC.
If you are even considering medicine as an option, the best thing you can
do for yourself is to start work on the long-term parts of your application
immediately. Things like the MCAT and the interview, while important (the
MCAT less so), can be improved in a shorter period of time. Starting right
now, you should get the best grades you can (without being tempted by
shortcuts like loading up your fourth year with easy courses), spend your
spare time in productive ways, and build good relationships with your
professors and employers. Even if you don't end up applying to med, you'll
end up better off.
Spending your time in productive ways can mean a lot of things. There is a
stereotype that premeds have to spend all their time in healthcare-related
volunteering. There is nothing wrong with this (I did it), but it is not a
necessity. Working, playing a team sport, tutoring a high school student,
learning a second language, etc. are all great. You want your activities to
tell a story about you: you shouldn't stop doing things that are just fun
(hanging out with friends, video games, etc.), but you should realize that
file reviewers probably cannot learn anything useful about you from these
things. It's actually kind of mathy: the file reviewer is thinking, "What
is the conditional probability that a person will be a good doc, given that
this is how they spend their time?" Working after school in your parents'
store three days a week while you were in high school might show the file
reviewer that you're dependable, mature, take responsibility, have people
skills, manage time well, and are willing to do actual, hands-on work --
everything you want a doc to be. Spending three weeks in summer as part of
a volunteer group helping build a school in a developing country probably
doesn't tell the file reviewer much about you, other than the fact that you
like travel and you have access to money -- neither of which affect the
conditional probability that you'll be a good doc. A key here is long-term
commitment; and you really should pick fun things so you can do them for
years without burning out. Having at least one community-service oriented
activity is a very good idea.
At the time of writing, it seems that med admissions in Canada are
de-emphasizing science skills and are looking for people-skills. In the
upcoming 2016/17 admissions cycle at UBC, they have removed all science
prerequisites and will have no specific requirements other than six credits
of English. U of C has for years not had any prerequisite courses. Science
courses are still good for helping you prepare for the MCAT, but you should
select a course of study based on interest. I can think of three reasons
for this: your grades will be better if you're really into the material,
you will build better relationships with your professors if you're
genuinely interested (knowing your profs will enrich your university
experience in its own right, and will also open doors to research
opportunities, letters of reference, etc.), and you will have a good
back-up career if medicine doesn't work out. The last one is really
important and neglecting it was a mistake of mine: I stressed myself out
not knowing what I should do if I didn't get into medicine, which is a
pretty likely scenario for anybody. No one is a shoo-in.
If you are one of the lucky few to be invited to an interview,
congratulations! I'll tell you what someone who helped me practice for the
interview told me: the admissions committee has determined that you're
smart enough and have the skills and experience needed to be a doctor, and
the last thing they need to test for is your personality. When you are a
doctor, will you put others' needs ahead of your own? Are you going to be a
good colleague, someone who's self-reflective and easy to work with, or are
you going to cause problems with others? I did interview practice for
countless hours with other premeds, but the most valuable practice I got
was from a few short hours with some med students, residents, and doctors
that I know, who really get what it takes to be a good colleague and
doctor. For me, what was valuable about interview practice was not
memorizing formulas for answers, it was learning which of my
characteristics would make me a good doctor, and which would stand in the
way. When you're called into an interview room and put into a difficult
situation with an actor, or when you're asked to play a game with an
interviewer, all your rehearsed soundbites and principles of ethical
decision-making go out the window and you're left with nothing but how well
you understand yourself and how well you can put yourself in others' shoes.
Like everyone else, I read "Doing Right" to help prep for the interviews,
but I did not find it useful. I know it's cheesy, but I listened to an
audiobook of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" while jogging over a
few weeks and found it much more helpful. In my first ever interview, I
thought I did well but I ended up scoring an absolutely dismal sixth
percentile. I was crushed! I think it was this very right-brain way of
preparing, which seems weird to me and a lot of other premeds, that rescued
my interview score.
I didn't mean for this to go on so long! The most important points are:
- If you have any interest in medicine at all, start working on your GPA
and your extracurricular activities right now.
- In school, work, and extracurricular activities, make a conscious effort
to build good, long-lasting relationships with others.
- Don't worry about the stereotypical premed stuff (healthcare
volunteering, majoring in biochem, comparing yourself to others on
premed101, spending your summers washing petri dishes in a microbiology
lab). Plan a backup career, and let it take you to med.
- Take your right-brain with you to the interview.
-Nicholas Steinberg, May 15, 2016 (Entering UBC Med 2020, VFMP)