Our blog includes an overview of the seven CanMEDS roles and explains why the CanMEDS Framework is important for applicants to residencies and medical schools in Canada. If you are applying to schools in the United States or abroad, these concepts are equally important, even if the terminology used may be different.

Understanding the CanMEDS Framework should be one of the first steps you take in crafting your application, including your medical school personal statement or residency personal statement, as it will allow you to highlight your competence and suitability for the medical profession. We will discuss how knowing the CanMEDS roles can bolster your application and ways you can use this Framework to stand out.


Note: If you would like to navigate to specific sections of the article, click "Article Contents" above (on mobile) or on the right (desktop) to see an overview of the content.

Listen to the blog!

What is the CanMEDS Roles Framework?

If you are applying to medical school or residency in Canada, you have likely heard of CanMEDS. However, you may still be wondering what exactly this Framework entails? CanMEDS is a framework established by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to improve patient care by optimizing physician training. This Framework was originally developed in the 1990s and has since been updated to reflect current needs of patients and the medical profession. 

Since its establishment, CanMEDS has become the most widely accepted and applied physician competency framework in the world. As you apply to medical programs, you will often hear the word competency. Competencies are observable knowledge, skills, and attitudes important for your future profession. These competencies provide the foundation for the CanMEDS Framework.

You might be wondering the reason behind establishing this Framework. According to the Royal College, its main purpose is to “define the necessary competencies for all areas of medical practice and provide a comprehensive foundation for medical education and practice in Canada.” If you are applying to medical schools in Canada or working on your residency applications, understanding the purpose and importance of CanMEDS can help you set yourself apart from an ever-growing and increasingly competitive applicant pool. 

We would like to add that you are not expected to demonstrate your expertise in all these CanMEDS roles and competencies in your medical school applications - they should be used more as guidelines for what kind of experiences and skills you should highlight in your application components. However, residency applicants and fellows should be able to demonstrate their aptitudes for these roles in their OSCEs and other clinical examinations.

Summary of the 7 CanMEDS Roles

The CanMEDS Framework identifies and describes physician abilities required to successfully meet the health care needs of those they serve. These abilities are grouped under seven roles. A competent physician seamlessly integrates the competencies of all CanMEDS roles as a Medical Expert, these roles are:

Medical Expert 

The Royal College in Canada defines a Medical Expert as a physician who “integrates all of the CanMEDS roles, applying medical knowledge, clinical skills, and professional values in their provision of high-quality and safe patient-centered care.” This is the central role of a physician and defines the physician’s scope of practice. The essential role of Medical Expert draws on the competencies included in the remaining intrinsic CanMEDS roles described below.

Communicator

What makes a physician a good Communicator? The CanMEDS Framework states that “as Communicators, physicians form relationships with patients and their families that facilitate the gathering and sharing of essential information for effective health care.” Physicians must actively listen to the patient, explore their perspective, feelings, and expectations, and work together to form a patient-centered approach based on shared decision-making. Importantly, the effects of an illness go beyond the patient; thus, a physician must also be able to communicate effectively with families and all who are involved in the patient’s care. 

Collaborator

The Royal College defines the role of Collaborator as a physician who “works effectively with other health care professionals to provide safe, high-quality, patient-centered care.” As previously stated, as a physician, you will not only be working with patients, but also with their families and other professionals involved in ensuring they receive the best care. Collaboration is rooted in forming relationships based on trust and respect. As a physician, you will need to assess your own skills and the complementary skills of your team to work together towards accomplishing goals. You must understand the roles of others and be open to pursuing common goals as well as managing differences. You may find yourself applying the Collaborator role to other aspects of health care as well, such as administration and teaching. 

Leader

“As Leaders, physicians engage with others to contribute to a vision of a high-quality health care system and take responsibility for the delivery of excellent patient care through their activities as clinicians, administrators, scholars, or teachers.” At the foundation of this CanMEDS role is shared decision making for the benefit of your patients and the profession. Physicians are expected to demonstrate collaborative leadership and skilled management. 

Would you rather have a quick recap of the CanMEDS roles? Check out our infographic below:

Health Advocate

An essential role for a physician is that of Health Advocate for your patients and their families. According to the Royal College, “as Health Advocates, physicians contribute their expertise and influence as they work with communities or patient populations to improve health. They work with those they serve to determine and understand needs, speak on behalf of others when required, and support the mobilization of resources to effect change.”

Physicians are in a unique societal role due to their knowledge and extensive training. They are accountable to society and have a duty to improve the health and wellbeing of the people and populations that they serve. Medicine goes beyond treating illness and involves disease prevention, health protection, and health equity promotion. Individuals and populations cannot reach their full health potential in the face of social determinants of health unless physicians take action as Health Advocates. Advocacy itself requires partnership and implementation of many of the other CanMEDS roles, such as Collaborator and Communicator. 

Scholar 

This physician role is defined as “a lifelong commitment to excellence in practice through continuous learning and by teaching others, evaluating evidence, and contributing to scholarship.” Physicians cannot be content with their current knowledge, skills, or medical practices and must pursue excellence by continually improving their work, sharing and comparing their practice with colleagues, and actively seeking feedback to enhance quality of patient care and the service provided to their families. As a Scholar, you will aim to improve in each CanMEDS role throughout your career as well as model lifelong learning for others. You are also expected to engage in evidence-informed and shared decision-making as you identify, evaluate, and synthesize information resources.  

Professional

As a future Professional in the medical field, you will be expected to be “committed to the health and wellbeing of individual patients and society through ethical practice, high personal standards of behavior, accountability to the profession and society, physician-led regulation, and maintenance of personal health.” This professionalism reflects society’s expectations of physicians, including clinical competence, high ethical standards and integrity, honesty and transparency, altruism, respect for diversity, and much more. It is fair to say that the standards for professionalism as a physician are quite high and that you will hold a position of great privilege and responsibility in society. 

How Are CanMEDS Roles Relevant to Your Application?

After familiarizing yourself with the CanMEDS roles, you may be wondering how this relates to your medical school or residency application. Whether you are applying through OMSAS or using individual application systems of each medical school, CanMEDS roles can help you stay focused when you reflect on the myriad of experiences, skills, and extracurriculars for medical school you want to include in your application.

Are you planning to attend a medical school in Canada? Check out our tips for how to get in:

As you begin to do your research on Canadian medical schools and residency programs, you will notice that each school has a page on its website dedicated to CanMEDS. Medical schools regularly ask themselves the following question: How can we best prepare effective physicians that truly meet the needs of their patients? The CanMEDS Framework is the tool which programs use to establish their training methods, so familiarity with the CanMEDS competencies will yield a better understanding of your future training program. Many programs also use CanMEDS standards in their assessment methods, so this also gives you a glimpse into how you will be evaluated in the future. 

What does this have to do with your application? Your application needs to demonstrate that you will be successful in these training programs and rigorous assessments. Within your application, you should aim to highlight experiences and qualities that you possess that speak to the CanMEDS Framework. Such experiences demonstrate your readiness for a rigorous program and the realities of the medical profession. Your application must focus on showcasing your suitability for specific medical schools or residency programs. This is where this framework comes in handy.

Where should you start? Begin by listing every experience you have had or position you have held that might fall under each of the seven CanMEDS roles. This list will be helpful when you begin to compose your OMSAS autobiographical sketch or your AMCAS work and activities entries, and as you write your essays for each school, program, or specialty.

You will also be discussing these same experiences when you answer medical school interview questions or residency interview questions during your interviews. Remember that most common interview questions have to do with your experiences and skills that make you a great fit for your chosen programs. Furthermore, reflecting on your personal experiences may help you compose detailed answers to the most challenging CASPer questions. Thus, brainstorming which of your skills and activities relate to CanMEDS roles can make the application process a lot easier and set you up for success – you can reference a well-planned list of activities at any time during your application. Planning ahead by utilizing the CanMEDS Framework will streamline your application process.

Let’s examine how you can use one of your extracurriculars to demonstrate your suitability for medicine using the CanMEDS roles. In your application you will want to fit every piece of your past experiences into one of roles that comprise a Medical Expert. This does not mean that you are already a Medical Expert, but it is essential to demonstrate that you are already working towards this goal and possess the necessary qualities to grow into a Medical Expert in the future. Even activities such as sports and dance lessons can fit into the CanMEDS framework if you plan your activity descriptions carefully. Let’s look at a few examples:

If you can use your activities to demonstrate each of these CanMEDS roles, you will be well on your way towards showcasing your suitability as a future Medical Expert and as someone who is a great fit for the programs to which you are applying.

Are you an American student looking to attend a medical school in Canada? Check out our infographic to learn more:

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What if I am applying to programs in the United States instead of in Canada? Should I still consider CanMEDS?

While medical schools and residency programs in the United States do not use the CanMEDS Framework, it is globally accepted as one of the best guidelines for physicians in training. However, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has developed its own version of this important Framework for future medical doctors. It is known as the 15 Core Competencies and can be found on the AAMC’s website. The AAMC’s core competencies fall into four categories: Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Thinking and Reasoning, and Science. When reviewing these competencies, keep in mind that the same importance to your future career and relevance to your applications applies to this framework. 

2. Do I need to demonstrate every CanMEDS role within my application?

Your goal should be to make your application as well rounded as possible. Although demonstrating every CanMEDS role may not be possible, when making a list of all your activities and experiences, think about experiences that can fit into more than one category and use this as an opportunity to diversify your application. For example, maybe you served as a volunteer at a clinic in which you communicated regularly with patients but also served as a mentor to new volunteers. This activity demonstrates many valuable qualities and skills and could work well to show your suitability for the Communicator role and the Leader role. Communication can be woven into many activities, so if this is the only leadership experience you have, this activity would be more beneficial for your application if used to showcase the CanMEDS role of Leader.

3. How can I demonstrate the Scholar role if academia is not my forte?

In answering this question, be sure to review how CanMEDS defines a Scholar: “A lifelong commitment to excellence in practice through continuous learning and by teaching others, evaluating evidence, and contributing to scholarship.” This Framework does not mention research, meeting medical school GPA requirements, or a specific exam score. Think about activities that you have participated in that can demonstrate the skills within the CanMEDS Framework definition. For example, maybe you helped underprivileged high school students as a tutor, which demonstrates your dedication to teaching. As a tutor, maybe you had a difficult student and you investigated learning styles and new approaches you could take to help your students achieve academic success. This showcases your commitment to self-improvement and that you will continue to be a lifelong learner as a physician. When looking at each CanMEDS role, think outside the box. Do not limit yourself or think negatively about your own experiences; there are many routes to a career in medicine and there is no set list of activities that admissions committees are looking to see from candidates. 

4. How do the CanMEDS apply to my interviews?

Just as you will be aiming to demonstrate your suitability and preparedness for your program in your written application, the same goal applies to your interviews. Assessors will be evaluating whether you are a good fit for the medical profession. Knowing the CanMEDS roles and showcasing your skills in these areas is key. Interviews are a chance for committees to meet you in person; during this time, they will continue to evaluate your Communicator and Professional competencies and see how you explain your experiences and motivations to pursue medicine, or a particular specialty, verbally. 

In addition, many interview styles ask you to complete a task or work with a group of candidates, in which case, you can demonstrate your suitability as a Collaborator, Leader, and once again as a respectful and conscientious Professional. This may come up during different MMI question types in your Multiple Mini Interview. Keeping in mind the CanMEDS Framework can help you consistently demonstrate these skills during your interview and frame your responses in a way that highlights your relevant experiences. If you do so, you can effectively show the committee your suitability, as the CanMEDS Framework is used in training and evaluation of medical school students, residents, and physicians. 

5. How can CanMEDS help me prepare for common essay and interview questions?

You are more than likely to face interview questions like “Tell Me About Yourself?” and "Why do you want to be a doctor?" To answer these questions, you need to identify what makes you who you are. As you do this, think about two to three life experiences or activities that you can use to demonstrate your strengths as a candidate and why you want to be a doctor. In doing so, link each experience to a CanMEDS role by discussing what you learned and how it is applicable to your future.

For example, a defining part of who you are may be your family values. You can include a key event in your life that allowed you to learn how important family is to you. Maybe you realized the importance of this as a loved one was battling a life-threatening illness and, through the course of their treatments, you learned about the value of effective communication from a physician who took the time to ensure your family felt cared for, understood, and educated on your options. This experience taught you the importance of communication and because of this experience in your future career as a physician you will demonstrate care for your own patients and their families. Answering these common essay or interview questions in this way not only allows the admissions committee to get to know you as a person and candidate, but it also demonstrates your understanding of the CanMEDS roles and experiences that you have had which make you suitable for the profession. 

6. How can CanMEDS roles help me with my residency applications?

Whether you are applying to the most competitive or the least competitive residencies, matching to your top-choice program will take a lot of work! Additionally, the directors and faculty will want to see what kind of skills and experiences you have acquired throughout your journey that make you a great fit for their programs. CanMEDS can help you choose the perfect experiences to highlight in your personal statement and residency CV, and help you and your committee choose which noteworthy characteristics to highlight in your MSPE.

Conclusion

The CanMEDS Framework was established to define competencies for medical practice and to provide a foundation for Canadian medical education and practice but has since been applied across the world. It is the driving force behind the continuous improvements in the medical profession, patient care, and health equity. As you apply to medical school or residency, the importance of CanMEDS cannot be overstated. The seven CanMEDS roles are what the medical community has defined as a good physician; thus, to establish yourself as a competitive candidate, you need to demonstrate to the admissions committees that you understand these roles, have experiences in each competency, and are someone who is suitable for this challenging and noble profession.

If you are in early stages of your medical school preparations, begin by securing activities and experiences that will allow you to grow as a potential physician and demonstrate the CanMEDS roles. If you are getting ready to apply to medical school, start examining your experiences and organizing them in a way that will showcase your readiness for medical training. As a future resident, reflect on your experiences in medical school – what have you learned about the CanMEDS roles? How can you bring your experiences to your specialty of choice? And what further learning do you hope to do in each CanMEDS role? No matter where you are in your journey to medicine, CanMEDS serves as a framework to guide you along. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

Have a question? Ask our admissions experts!

Anything we didn't cover? Have a question? Ask below or share your comments for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card! Weekly draws!

Comments