Myth-busting the CaRMS Process

Feb 6, 2020
Author: 
Ciara Parsons

Med Students St. George About 6,000 medical students a year use the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) to find postgraduate medical training programs. As one might expect, countless sites online offer information about CaRMS, and some of it is inaccurate. 

To help students find the best information, Dr. Laila Premji has created a list of common misconceptions about CaRMS and provided helpful insights into the process. Dr. Premji is an assistant professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto and the career advising system director with the Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Health Professions Student Affairs.

Myth 1: Transfers from one program to another within an institution are easy.

  • A major barrier to program transfers is funding for a given residency placement, e.g. four years of funding for a paediatric resident versus six years for a neurosurgery resident. (Gaining an additional two years of funding is challenging.)
  • Your completed years in a given discipline may or may not count toward the discipline into which you wish to transfer.
  • Leaving a program (especially a small one) can leave your co-residents and program director in a difficult position relative to call schedules, etc. — although you should follow your interests.
  • Changing programs is not impossible, but it should not be your primary plan/pathway. 

Myth 2: It is important to match to a site where I eventually wish to work after residency.

  • Matching to a site where you want to work longer-term is not a prerequisite for securing a staff job, although it is helpful to build networks and learn how a specific system runs.
  • Hospital staff positions are separate from postgraduate training; hospitals will want the best candidate for the job.
  • Bringing a varied experience to a new centre can be perceived as positive.

Myth 3: I must do volunteer work.

  •  Volunteer experience in an area you are passionate about will come through in your application or interview and will be an important part of your narrative.
  • Experience to "pad your CV" will likely be clear — spend your time doing something that excites you.

Myth 4: I need to do an elective at U of T (or a certain University) to get accepted.

  • You do not "need" to do an elective at a certain program in order to be offered an interview — programs are aware that there are limited weeks allocated for electives and it is physically impossible to seek out elective opportunities at all sites across Canada.
  • Having said that, certain programs will place more emphasis on elective choices. We recommend reviewing data that has been published by CaRMS. It is also worth speaking to residents/faculty/other students in your specialty of interest to help plan your electives as thoughtfully as possible. 

Myth 5: I need to do all my electives in a particular specialty to get accepted in it.

  • You actually cannot do all your electives in a given specialty anymore.
  • The student electives diversification policy came into effect for all Canadian medical students this year and will impact electives choices for the class of 2021 onwards. All students will be limited to a maximum of eight weeks in any R1 entry level position.
  • The idea behind this electives policy is to ensure that students are engaging in varied clinical experiences and to help level the playing field so that all students have the same maximum number of weeks in any given discipline.

Myth 6: I need to do a research project in that specialty.

  • You do not "need" to do a research project in your specialty of interest.
  • However, some specialties place more emphasis on research productivity than other specialties — it is worth investigating by speaking to residents/colleagues/mentors in the field.
  • If you are really not interested in research - you should strongly consider whether research is a large component for most physicians in your area of interest and consider whether this field is the right fit for you.
  • Consider experimenting with some areas of scholarly activity that interest you, if basic science research isn’t a strong interest, e.g. medical education, quality improvement, etc.
  • You won’t know you don’t like research if you don’t give it a try. Find a mentor who has similar interests to you and is motivating and supportive – you may get a lot of satisfaction from completing a relevant project that allows you to contribute to the field.

Myth 7: Preference is given to U of T students.

  • This is not true at U of T and it is unlikely that other schools offer preference to their students. Fairness and equity is imperative at the postgraduate level in this competitive and stressful process.

​​Myth 8: If I match to another school, it will be easier to transfer back to U of T as I'm a graduate of U of T.

  •  Untrue. Postgraduate and undergraduate admissions are completely separate.

Myth 9: If I've taken time off, it will be detrimental to my application​.

  • We have looked at the last few years of data for unmatched students and there is no significant difference in time off for unmatched vs. matched students.
  • Programs will not have insights (unless you provide them) on type of medical leave of absence or personal leaves of absence.