There are two medical schools in Alberta: the Cumming School of Medicine and the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

When applying to a medical school, it is crucial to understand the kind of applicant that they prefer. Knowing what to highlight on your application, as well as what tracks or paths to take advantage of is an excellent way to make your application stand out and rise to the top of the stack of other applications.

In this article, we will discuss what you need to know if you are planning to apply to medical schools in Alberta and how you can increase your chances of getting in.


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What Kind of Applicants Are Preferred for Medical Schools in Alberta?

Local Albertans

Alberta’s medical schools, both the University of Alberta and the Cummings School of Medicine, reserve 85% of their available spaces for in-province applicants, with the remaining 15% going to out-of-province applicants.

Even a local applicant will need to hit academic targets – GPA and MCAT scores, for instance – but the minimum is not the guarantee.

The University of Alberta sets a minimum GPA at 3.30, but entering Albertan classes in recent years had median GPA scores such as 3.91, 3.89, and 3.88.

Do note that if you’re from the Canadian Territories – the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut – you are still considered local as far as the medical schools of Alberta are concerned.

Now, if you are an out-of-province student, you will need to demonstrate an even more impressive academic rigour to rise to the top of the applicant pool. Minimum requirements are raised at both medical schools for out-of-province students, and median test scores and GPAs are much higher for entering classes of non-Albertan students. In one recent year, the University of Alberta’s non-local median GPA was 4.0. You will need extra-high scores if you are coming from one of Canada’s other provinces.

All of this means that any applicant should strive for the highest grades possible, and should not count on the minimum. Medical school is competitive, and average GPAs of admitted students is almost always much higher than the minimum.

University of Alberta and Cumming School of Medicine both have such an emphasis on their home province that it would behoove an applicant to express an interest particularly in studying in Alberta. If you are out-of-province but planning to move to Alberta to practice medicine, this information will make you more appealing to such locally-driven schools.

Cumming School, for example, offers students a section in the application process for “Top 10 Experiences,” a wide-open section which would allow an expression of interest in Alberta as a province, either as a present experience, or one related to another experience you have had.

Black Applicants

The BAAP – or Black Applicants Admissions Program – has been created by the University of Alberta to align with a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Cumming School of Medicine also participates in the BAAP. This is open to all applicants who self-identify as Black, including multi-racial students who identify with their Black ancestry.

There are no hard numbers given for a Black applicant to carry an edge, however identifying as Black will ensure that Black representation is part of the prospective student’s file review, which could result in a review that understands the student’s experiences better, and thus, result in more favourable results.

While having this in your profile is a great way to give context to your application and experiences, you must still meet the medical school requirements set by the school. Make sure your GPA, MCAT score, and other requirements at least meet the threshold set in your applicant pool. This means that if you are an out-of-province Black applicant, your scores and grades must meet this pool’s standards.

The Cumming School of Medicine offers Black students a chance to write an essay about why they have applied to this program. Highlight your community, how you are a part of it, and how your cultural experiences have shaped you and brought you to medical school in Alberta. Remember: this is about your culture, so tell the compelling story, but keep it focused.

There is no prompt nor length given, so for a topic focus on your culture and heritage, and stick to between 800-1,000 words.

Indigenous Applicants

Although slightly different in their approach, both medical schools in Alberta are interested in promoting Indigenous applicants. Each school considers Indigenous students, regardless of their home province, to be Albertan for purposes of minimum scoring requirements – although remember that you must not meet minimums, but be competitive within your applicant group, to succeed.

Both schools require authentication of Indigenous status, which must be a notarized documentation recognized by the province of Alberta as denoting Indigenous status or ancestry. Each school also has special review boards or panelists for Indigenous applications.

Both schools require a medical school personal statement, which will describe the prospective student’s connection to Indigenous communities or organizations.

This statement should demonstrate to the admissions committee your passion, qualification, and connection to the program to which you are applying. In this case, show how you are personally enmeshed with your Indigenous heritage and community.

Of particular interest to the committee will be any stories you have of how you have become passionate about contributing to your community. Do you have any stories of volunteer work that changed your community for the better? Do you have an experience where you took a leadership role?

You also will want to highlight why the Indigenous community means something to you personally, beyond simply having a heritage connection. Do you have a grandfather who shared cultural knowledge with you? Did you have a particular moment where you embraced your traditions?

Finally, while this essay is about your connection to your Indigenous community and roots, if you have a specific bridge to medicine, this would be a potential place to highlight that. For example, if you want to help underserved Indigenous populations as a physician. Or if you want to forward lacking research in health concerns that particularly affect Indigenous Canadian populations.

It is vital to note that the Cumming School of Medicine highlights this facet of the letter, and is specifically looking for how your connection to your community and heritage impact your plans for medical school, both in the application and the consummation of their degree. You can note that Cumming considers this essay optional, but we don’t think opportunity is optional, and if you can give yourself an edge, that is something you should take advantage of.

There is no specified length for the essay. Try to give yourself enough room to say something meaningful, but not to ramble. Aim for 800-1,000 words, and you should be in the right area.

Second, a reference letter from someone who can attest to the same facets of the applicant’s life. This is optional, but we always recommend you take advantage of opportunities you are given. In this case, having someone vouch for your connection gives one more voice to your application.

If you have a connection with an Elder, or another community leader, who knows you and has personal experience with you, particularly as an employer or supervisor, ask that person if they would be willing to give you a good letter of recommendation. Make sure to tell them that this is specifically to demonstrate a connection with the Indigenous community. If they focus on your work ethic, the letter won’t be as useful to the application committee.

Rural Applicants

To promote physicians in rural or remote areas of Alberta, up to 10 slots are set aside each year for rural applicants. The applicant must have lived for 3, or more, years consecutively in an area considered rural and/or remote.

This only applies to residents of Alberta, so coming from the hinterlands of New Brunswick won’t qualify you for this track.

Wondering how to get into the University of Alberta medical school?

Military Medical Training Program

The University of Alberta has six spaces available – above the regular quota, even – for active members of the Canadian Armed Forces. This might be a path that is particularly appealing to you if you are planning to become a military doctor.

In addition to having six reserved spaces, tuition is also subsidized by the CAF, although they only cover the MD itself, not any requisite prep years or pre-requisite courses.

This pathway does not reduce the requirements for entry, however, and the University of Alberta insists that MMTP applicants still be competitive within the general applicant pool. The six additional slots can help by keeping spaces specifically reserved for MMTP applicants, but that doesn’t mean that the applicants can carry lower grades or achievements.

No extra special treatment or edge is given to an active CAF member, but they will be considered in the same category as an Alberta resident. They must have been on active duty for twenty-four months prior to classes starting.

What Kind of Academic and Non-Academic Achievements are Preferred at Medical Schools in Alberta?

Academics

Besides the obvious high academic standards, such as a high GPA and MCAT, it will benefit you greatly to know what kinds of academic pursuits to undertake. Knowing the values of your medical school of choice will be extremely useful.

You can have a bachelor’s degree in any subject you like before applying to either school in Alberta. However, statistically-speaking, the program admits far more students with a Bachelor of Science than in the arts. In recent years, at University of Alberta, 66.47% of the admitted held a BSc, which doesn’t even include those with degrees in Bachelor of Science-Kinesiology, Bachelor of Science-Engineering, Bachelor of Science-Nursing, Bachelor of Health Sciences, Bachelor of Medical Sciences, or Bachelor of Science-Pharmacy. The lowest-represented degrees were Bachelor of Education, bachelor of commerce, and bachelor of community rehabilitation, each of which had 0.59%. The bachelor of arts and sciences also held 0.59%,

Other years saw similar statistics, with none dropping the admitted students with BSc degrees below 66%, and climbing as high as 77.25%. So, if there no hope for a Bachelor of the Arts? No, hope abounds. Even with a humanities degree, a candidate sporting an impressive GPA will still be seen as desirable by the admissions committee.

The Cumming School sites medical school prerequisites, such as biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, literature, Indigenous studies, ethics, statistics, biochemistry, physiology, psychology, and research methods as areas of interest for prospective students.

If you have a degree outside of the sciences, you might be able to show that your knowledge in your field can apply to medicine. Do so in Cumming’s top 10 experiences section, or by highlighting an award you have won or a paper you’ve written. If you have a degree in Indigenous Studies, it will likely speak for itself, showing the school that you understand Indigenous communities, and might be right for their program.

Extracurriculars

Now that you know about the kinds of applicants that Alberta’s medical schools are looking for, you can shape the rest of your application. You can pick the best extracurriculars for medical school, work experiences, volunteer experiences, and other elements of your application to highlight those qualities that these schools seek after. You can also highlight these activities in such a way to draw attention to the aspects of yourself that will be appealing to the University of Alberta and Cumming School of Medicine.

If you are from another province, but happen to be from a rural area, you can bring this out in your application. The University of Alberta has a lot to offer rural physicians, so if you are looking to practice in a remote community, small town, or rural area, definitely bring that out in any forms that you can – particularly if you can show off some work experience or volunteer experience at a rural medical facility. Personal activities sections were made for this sort of thing, so let the admissions board know that you’re serious about getting off the beaten path once you have your official stethoscope.

Think about the other kinds of applicants that the Alberta schools are looking for, and see if you have any connections there, in terms of extracurricular activities. If you have volunteered on a reservation or with any Indigenous communities, or if you have been active in supportive action for those communities, make sure this is prominent in any volunteer activities lists you supply. Even if you aren’t Indigenous yourself, showing service to these communities will catch the eye of any review boards.

Black applicants can highlight any experiences they have had engaging with their heritage in an active way. Activism, volunteer experience seeking political change, or time spent as a team member or leader of a group helping to build up underserved communities will all look great in a personal statement, optional essay, or as volunteer experience.

Your military service record, if you are applying as an active member of the Canadian Armed Forces, can connect you with medicine, if you have experience in this area, or with remote areas, depending on where and how you have served.

Generally-speaking, you can and should use your collective experiences to best showcase those qualities most-desirable to the admissions committee. The best qualities to put front-and-centre are dedication, time, and growth.

Think about all of the experiences you’ve had where you have bettered yourself, benefitted other people, and grown as a person. Maybe there was a time you volunteered at a women’s shelter and you are now a training supervisor; or maybe you help out at a hospital or care facility, and did so during some particularly grueling or harrowing times. Any experiences that show you have passion, a strong work ethic, stick-to-itiveness, endurance, and strong moral values will show an appealing candidate to the school.

What Kind of Doctor Can You Become at Medical Schools in Alberta?

Where you go to school matters a great deal in terms of outcomes. Your objective is not to go to medical school but to become a physician. What kind of physician you want to be determines the schools you will want to apply to.

Both schools have good match rates in first round choices of specialty, and are particularly high with family medicine and internal medicine. General practitioners, family doctors, and community physicians will find these schools and programs to be an excellent fit for their needs and career goals.

With a high emphasis on local applicants and placements, Alberta’s schools also will appeal to any residents of Alberta or students who wish to practice medicine in Alberta. Planning to move to the province to practice will also help you stand out in the eyes of the admissions committees.

Alberta’s medical schools both concern themselves with rural and remote communities and Indigenous Canadian communities. If you are looking to apply medical knowledge to help out in such underserved communities, either University of Alberta or Cumming School of Medicine are perfect for you.

Cumming in particular offers the distributed learning and rural initiatives program and the Indigenous health program. The former allows medical students the opportunity to do rotations in rural communities and better learn about how to apply medical knowledge in remote, rural, and underserved communities.

The latter is dedicated towards helping Indigenous learners and to combating the particular health problems faced by Indigenous communities, the Indigenous Health Program provides learners opportunity to gain valuable training for these specific areas of medicine.

Benefits of this program include mentorship and networking opportunities with Indigenous health professionals, as well as access to a Traditional Knowledge Keeper.

Wondering how to get into medical school in Canada?

Conclusion

Every program is a little different in their expectations and values, so be sure that you are very familiar with your program of choice.

Exceptions and additional rules are given for groups such as Indigenous applicants or members of the armed forces. Familiarize yourself with these exceptional cases and provide your best application based on your personal history and who you are.

Depending on your personal status, make sure you choose the school that is right for you. To some extent, applying to medical schools (or schools of any kind) is about finding the right fit between student and institution, and is not just about picking the “top school”. Find a place where you will thrive and maximize your chances with everything you’ve got.

FAQs

1. Can I be an international student and study medicine in Alberta?

The University of Alberta only accepts Canadian citizens or permanent residents into their medical program.

The Cumming School of Medicine, likewise, only takes Canadian citizens or permanent residents. They do say that they limit international applicants to, “...students from institutions or countries that have formal, contractual agreements with the Cumming School of Medicine,” however, they do not list any such countries with formal agreements.

2. What kinds of non-academic achievements or activities should I have?

At the University of Alberta, employment, volunteer work, life experiences and achievements, and teamwork, collaboration, and leadership are all considered. There is a special section as part of the submission process to let the Committee know about your activities and qualities outside of pure academics.

Cumming asks students for employment history, publications, awards, and top 10 experiences. Pay attention to that last category. Cumming has opened the doors wide for an applicant to provide unique experiences specific to them and to stand out in a unique and meaningful way. Focus on your best qualities – attributes like leadership, activism, teamwork, overcoming challenges, or overcoming adversity. There can be overlap with other categories (Cumming includes awards as a possible top 10 experience, for example). Note that each experience will need a “verifier” who can speak to the experience.

3. Do I require letters of reference?

Yes. The University of Alberta requires two letters of reference from somebody who will know you in a supervisory capacity, and cannot be relatives, friends, or personal physicians.

For the Cumming School of Medicine, you will have to submit the names and contact information of three referees. Use professional email addresses, and direct UCAN to send out the reference letter form link; UCAN sends the link to the referees.

Cumming has a unique approach to their letters of reference. Each letter focuses on different attributes: the first is about organizational, management, and leadership skills; the second is about commitment to communities and advocacy; and the third is about interpersonal behaviours and collaboration.

You need to get referees who will speak to those attributes, and who can show your connection to those qualities.

Knowing about medical school recommendation letters is a crucial part of the application process.

4. How many medical schools should I apply to?

If possible, between 8-10 schools.

5. Can I take the MCAT more than once?

Yes, you can.

The University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine uses the most advantageous score for the applicant.

6. How many seats are available?

At the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine, recently, there were 150 seats available, but they decline to guarantee a specific number.

The University of Alberta has 162 seats available.

Do note that each school have quotas within their totals, with 85% of seats reserved for local students; other quotas are in place regarding groups such as Indigenous Canadians or active members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

7. Do I need a specific undergraduate degree to apply and be accepted?

No. Neither medical school in Alberta requires specific courses, although they both recommend that students take courses which will be beneficial to their studies, including hard sciences – like chemistry – and studies which might give students insight into their profession – like Indigenous Studies.

Also note that you will be required to write the MCATs, and achieving excellence in this test is impossible without a good knowledge of the medical-related subjects covered in the test.

8. If I have a poor academic showing, can I still get into med school?

Probably not, not if you’re describing your GPA or other academic qualifications as “poor”. But “low” marks, grades, or GPA might still be okay.

Definitely look into strategies and ideas on how to get into medical school with a low GPA.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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