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McMaster 1st year Medical Student - AMA

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Thanks so much for doing this! I have a lot of questions I'm really hoping you can answer :).

1. How well do you think the program prepares you for medicine?

2. How do non-traditional students fare in the program?

3. Tips on being successful at McMaster specifically?

4. How do scholarships work? For example, does everyone got some scholarship money at the start of each year, or only some because of competitive applications/high need, etc.?

5. Do you know any one who commutes from the GTA to Hamilton? How's that going for them?

Thanks again!!!

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Thank you so much for this! I'm trying to decide between McMaster (hamilton) and Ottawa, and I was hoping you could give your thoughts on a few questions I had: 

1. Do people pursuing competitive specialties at mcmaster find themselves at a disadvantage for carms matching, since its a 3 year program? (I'm hoping to do dermatology and I've been told that given the choice between a 3 year and 4 year program, I should go for the 4 year program since there's more time to prepare?) 

2. For the first year and a half of pre-clerkship, how helpful is it to have a car? ie to travel to hospitals for observerships 

3. What was the toughest part about the transition to med school? 

Thank you again :)

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8 hours ago, AlynHoffman said:

Thank you so much for this! I'm trying to decide between McMaster (hamilton) and Ottawa, and I was hoping you could give your thoughts on a few questions I had: 

1. Do people pursuing competitive specialties at mcmaster find themselves at a disadvantage for carms matching, since its a 3 year program? (I'm hoping to do dermatology and I've been told that given the choice between a 3 year and 4 year program, I should go for the 4 year program since there's more time to prepare?) 

2. For the first year and a half of pre-clerkship, how helpful is it to have a car? ie to travel to hospitals for observerships 

3. What was the toughest part about the transition to med school? 

Thank you again :)

It can be hard to match to a competitive specialty from a 3 year program, but its not impossible. If you know what you want going in and you pursue it like your life depended on it, you can do very well. The issue with Mac is its a lot less friendly to people who change their minds. You essentially need to start ruling out specialties in 1st year, and narrow things down to 2 or 3 by the beginning of clerkship and ideally should be down to no more than 1 competitive specialty within a few months of beginning clerkship. 

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12 hours ago, AlynHoffman said:

Thank you so much for this! I'm trying to decide between McMaster (hamilton) and Ottawa, and I was hoping you could give your thoughts on a few questions I had: 

1. Do people pursuing competitive specialties at mcmaster find themselves at a disadvantage for carms matching, since its a 3 year program? (I'm hoping to do dermatology and I've been told that given the choice between a 3 year and 4 year program, I should go for the 4 year program since there's more time to prepare?) 

2. For the first year and a half of pre-clerkship, how helpful is it to have a car? ie to travel to hospitals for observerships 

3. What was the toughest part about the transition to med school? 

Thank you again :)

I've heard from others at Mac the 3 year program is a killer on the soul as you go through the med program in a 'rushed' 3 years without a vacation during the summer months which means no time to do observerships/research in a specialty area (eg dermatology) or research job to make extra money. Other candidates across Canada will be very likely be spending time during the summer doing these extra activities that gives them the edge over you at Mac. Also not a big fan of the 2 small satellite schools that are not in hamilton which I've heard u get video lectures from the main hub or need to take a bus from niagara back to hamilton etc...

I'd pick Ottawa over Mac as the medschool is attached to the main hospital and ottawa gives many more opportunities. Also better choices for housing and safer...good luck with your decision and congrats!

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I'd pick Ottawa too for all the reasons mentioned above.  3 straight years with no summer breaks is just brutal.  Even if you're doing observerships/research in the summers at Ottawa, that's just such a different level of work.  Breaks are important for your brain and your heart lol.  I think 3 year programs are such a bad idea.

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7 hours ago, medsci101 said:

I'd pick Ottawa too for all the reasons mentioned above.  3 straight years with no summer breaks is just brutal.  Even if you're doing observerships/research in the summers at Ottawa, that's just such a different level of work.  Breaks are important for your brain and your heart lol.  I think 3 year programs are such a bad idea.

We get 1-2 week breaks at the end of each medical foundation (every 2,3 months). You can also do international electives for 4+ weeks in the summer. 

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On 5/14/2019 at 10:23 AM, phdnowmed said:

Thanks so much for doing this! I have a lot of questions I'm really hoping you can answer :).

1. How well do you think the program prepares you for medicine?

2. How do non-traditional students fare in the program?

3. Tips on being successful at McMaster specifically?

4. How do scholarships work? For example, does everyone got some scholarship money at the start of each year, or only some because of competitive applications/high need, etc.?

5. Do you know any one who commutes from the GTA to Hamilton? How's that going for them?

Thanks again!!!

I commute from the GTA every day. Feel free to DM.  

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On 5/14/2019 at 10:36 AM, AlynHoffman said:

Thank you so much for this! I'm trying to decide between McMaster (hamilton) and Ottawa, and I was hoping you could give your thoughts on a few questions I had: 

1. Do people pursuing competitive specialties at mcmaster find themselves at a disadvantage for carms matching, since its a 3 year program? (I'm hoping to do dermatology and I've been told that given the choice between a 3 year and 4 year program, I should go for the 4 year program since there's more time to prepare?) 

2. For the first year and a half of pre-clerkship, how helpful is it to have a car? ie to travel to hospitals for observerships 

3. What was the toughest part about the transition to med school? 

Thank you again :)

Im a student at Mac currently and I would honestly suggest Ottawa. If you know you want Dermatology you will have to work really hard to be doing research at the same time as pre-clerkship which is only one year. That is one of the biggest disadvantages of a three year program. Also if you change your mind a year in about specialty, you have very little time to come up with a good resume for carms. 

 

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2 hours ago, Distancea said:

We get 1-2 week breaks at the end of each medical foundation (every 2,3 months). You can also do international electives for 4+ weeks in the summer. 

This is not true.. I am a second year student. You may get 1 week of if you are lucky. Usually just a few days between MFs and then in clerkship which is most of the program, you get NO time off. It is honestly so exhausting (I am in this now). If you can do it in four years, why not?

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Any 4 year program > McMaster because 

1. You are expected to have a good idea what what specialty you would want to go into, at least a broad idea. If you want something niche and competitive (Derm, Plastics, Ophtho, ENT), you will likely have to arrive at that conclusion early on in preclerkship in order to participate in research and gain clinical experience to prepare 

2. No summers = No breaks other than the few days between each medical foundation; Less opportunities for research and observerships compared to your peers. With the 8 week cap in electives, any clinical experience time you can get outside of that is a bonus. 

3. Brand new curriculum: The c2022 will have a new curriculum for both preclerkship and clerkship. It is the same content but rearranged. 

4. Poor opportunities to shadow in preclerkship: Many good opportunities have you risk being "unprofessional" or rely heavily on personal connections. Many departments will just not reply to you or put you in a waitlist. These are huge departments with staff willing to teach but the placement contact is stretched so thin that they cannot arrange anything for you (Obgyn, Emerg, Internal Medicine CTU and subspecialties). 

5. Obligation to travel to surrounding communities: At the Hamilton campus, many of your clerkship rotations could be at random communities in the Mac catchment area. Even getting placed at Oakville will require you to travel and own a car. In preclerkship, since there are scarce opportunities in Hamilton to shadow, many have to resort to getting shifts in community hospitals and those without cars will just not be able to get those shifts. 

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I accepted to Mac because it was my only interview! :) However, what are some things you guys do like about the 3 year program? I'm almost a bit sad I read this because I'm feeling really discouraged. 

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On 5/15/2019 at 6:42 PM, Distancea said:

I commute from the GTA every day. Feel free to DM.  

How long's your commute (and car vs transit)? Do you structure your "Hamilton hours" differently because of the commute, like staying later during weekdays and not going on weekends?

Question for any McMaster students: My main interests are psychiatry and public health, and my only other considered specialty being pathology because I like lab work. How are opportunities for these at McMaster compared to other schools? (I know that is a bit general)

And swoman what do you mean by risking being unprofessional?

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I guess I'll provide a dissenting opinion - I'm a second year resident now and I loved my time at Mac. Caveat being that I can't comment on curriculum changes or if anything else is different since I went there. 

I was initially interested in a somewhat competitive specialty and while there weren't any summers McMaster clerkship was not typical clerkship. Around the necessary team based learning and professional competency sessions I was able to shadow for 10-20 hours per week, got involved in multiple research projects, and hung out with residents in the specialty at rounds etc. I ended up switching to family in the end based off of those experiences, which aside from MF5 gave me so much free time in pre-clerkship that even without designated breaks I didn't feel close to burn out. And there are people from my class who discovered late in preclerkship or early clerkship that they wanted something competitive and ended up matching to competitive specialties - I can't compare how easy it would have been for them to do it at a 4 year school but it certainly isn't as impossible as it's being made to seem in this thread. 

That does not mean everything is positive, I do have multiple friends who ended up unmatched, matched to alternate specialties, or who taking a 4th year (which is an option) because they switched focus midway through clerkship. But even if you have an idea of med vs surg there is definitely time to find your niche if you set out to explore from the beginning. To address specific questions:

-For public health the unit did a great elective where you could see what the MOH did, do research projects etc. I don't know the specifics but 2 people in our class matched CCFP+PHPM at very competitive (non-mac) programs. I did a lab medicine elective which gave exposure to not only path but med micro and med biochem, definitely not for me but the preceptors were incredibly helpful to anyone showing interest

-If you want Derm, Mac is a bad idea. They don't really have a program, just a weird half UofT thing, can be hard to get non-academic exposure. If you want to see something more interesting than AKs and are ok dictating until midnight you can learn a lot at Dr. Lima's clinic though

-A car in preclerkship will depend on your goals, I was able to live close to one hospital and bus in to Mac and had no problems without a car until preclerkship

-Everyone got bursaries, giant list of additional ones that you could apply to got sent out as well

-It seems that non-trad students flourished at MAc moreso than elsewhere. We had veterinarians, lawyers, architects, musicians and eventually everyone came out with a good knowledge base

-You have to be self-directed in this program, it is very easy to just coast by. That being said, I recognized my own weaknesses, the school had ample resources to correct them, and I did really well on external electives and continue to do so in residency (I did get lucky with my clerkship stream as well and did almost all of my cores early - those who weren't able to do so felt much more uncomfortable). The individual will matter more than the school here in my opinion, but Mac certainly won't bring a competent student down

Lastly the benefits of Mac. If you want something non-competitive you will have zero issues matching from Mac and I really don't see the value of the extra year of training. That will cost you 200k+ of staff money, probably 5 figures of tuition as the 4 year schools tuition inexplicably creep closer to Mac, and a year of living expenses whatever you budget that as. I hated lectures and the minutae that my friends at UofT were being forced to attend and tested on, and I instead got to spend that time researching, getting clinical exposure, and having fun. At the end of the day you have to know yourself because that program is definitely not for everyone, but it was my first choice going in and a couple years out doing residency at a 4 year school I would absolutely not want to go anywhere else in retrospect. Feel free to PM me questions as well, but if you feel comfortable please post them here as conversations like this were incredibly helpful for me when I was making my decision.

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Made an account just to reply to this post. For background, I'm a first year student at Mac, so I think I can comment well on the current curriculum and program. Feel free to PM me if you have any questions.

1. Match rates: Mac consistently has a good-great match rate. This past round, we matched all but 6 in the first round of CaRMS. The vast majority of people match well into their top choices of specialties+locations. I don't have the data right now but I'm sure it's out there. PM me if you really want it and I can try to find it for you. I will agree, however, that uber-competitive specialties such optho/derm might seem harder to match into from Mac. However, people do it every year despite the "challenges". IMO it's more about the person themselves: are they willing to seek out opportunities that their peers will not? Are they willing to put in the work studying that specific content themselves, which they would have done at any other medical school? And let's be real: how much of a typical class is going to want derm/plastics/ortho? The majority of people will end up in FM/IM/surgery and there are no problems with a perceived lack of competitiveness of Mac students in these areas.

2. Three years w/o summer is not that bad, and I don't think there is a real disadvantage when compared to 4 year schools with summer. 

2a) Research: Most of my class right now is able to find the time to participate in side research, usually easy projects such as systemic reviews, meta-analyses, case reports, QI projects. Many people that I know are on track to publishing at least a couple papers by the end of med school. Opportunities to involve yourself in research are really easy to find, and we have admin facilitators in place to get you into contact with PIs if you are having trouble. Not only that, but I've had several of my tutors and preceptors offer research work to my groups over the year, unprompted.

2b) You graduate one year early and $tart the rest of your life sooner. See @Rorzo's comment above. At the end of first year, I'm not feeling any burn out and I'm looking forward to starting clerkship early. Yes, there's FOMO from seeing my friends at other medical school go on vacation and do observerships in cool places, but I also feel like I'm working towards my goal faster. Keep in mind that the rest of your life doesn't have any summers either.

2c) As for 3 vs 4 year competitiveness, my general perception so far is that most of the learning happens in clerkship anyways, and that pre-clerkship learning doesn't help you so much after a certain amount of standard knowledge. And I really do think that we reach that 'certain amount' here. We have a solid clinical skills program here and I feel really comfortable interacting with patients 1 on 1 already.

3. Shadowing pre-clerkship, clerkship, and community hospitals. Agree with some of the "unprofessionalism" comments made above, but also disagree in that I think that Mac's preclinical exposure surpasses that of other curricula. I'm able to shadow in pretty much any specialty I want, as long as I am willing to travel for some of them. Some people in my class are shadowing at least once or twice per week. Preceptors have pretty much been fantastic across the board. Shadowing and clerkship will be in a mix of academic hospital and community hospital. Both teach you different things. Academic centers will have more interesting cases but community hospitals will let you do more things hands-on, give you more responsibility, and have fewer residents.

4. A car is useful, and personally my life improved 5000x when I got one halfway through first year. Total cost of living is still less than other cities, and I'm able to go anywhere that I want.

5. No [real] exams and little mandatory lecture. I feel like I am studying different aspects of medicine for my career and clerkship down the road instead of for the exam on a system next week after which I'll forget everything. Caveat: you must be self-motivated and be able to regulate your own schedule. Otherwise, you'll pass, but will know less than what's ideal. The bar is low but the ceiling is really really high due to flexibility of the schedule and the assessment model.

On 5/14/2019 at 10:23 AM, phdnowmed said:

How do non-traditional students fare in the program?

 

Generally well, I think Mac is very accommodating to non-trad students and many of them do just as well as, if not better than, other students.

On 5/15/2019 at 11:34 PM, swoman said:

3. Brand new curriculum: The c2022 will have a new curriculum for both preclerkship and clerkship. It is the same content but rearranged. 

 

The new curriculum is better than our current one :). They get dedicated CaRMS interview time, more time for integration, more vacation, experience all core rotations before CaRMS interviews. These are all changes that have been in development for a while that admin is rolling out finally.

On 5/14/2019 at 10:35 PM, billy55555 said:

Also not a big fan of the 2 small satellite schools that are not in hamilton which I've heard u get video lectures from the main hub or need to take a bus from niagara back to hamilton etc...

WRC and NRC have it good! For real, they have great communities and fantastic admin support because of the small class size. They often have better access to shadowing and anatomy than Hamilton students. Their buildings are really new and have great dedicated spaces for students. TBH everyone just watches lecture online anyways after the first few months so there's no difference in lectures after that.

Overall, I think that there is a perception that Mac is less competitive than other schools due to the 3 year program. I don't think that's generally true. The program has a lot of flexibility and you can do with it what you will, so it is really about the individual student at the end of the day. Someone who is going to match into a very competitive is going to match into it from any school.

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On 5/15/2019 at 8:50 PM, md2bee said:

This is not true.. I am a second year student. You may get 1 week of if you are lucky. Usually just a few days between MFs and then in clerkship which is most of the program, you get NO time off. It is honestly so exhausting (I am in this now). If you can do it in four years, why not?

I am a year under you, and I have gotten anywhere from 6 days to 14 days (in the winter). Your experience may have been different but this doesnt prove what I said wrong.  

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10 hours ago, CoffeeOtter said:

How long's your commute (and car vs transit)? Do you structure your "Hamilton hours" differently because of the commute, like staying later during weekdays and not going on weekends?

Question for any McMaster students: My main interests are psychiatry and public health, and my only other considered specialty being pathology because I like lab work. How are opportunities for these at McMaster compared to other schools? (I know that is a bit general)

And swoman what do you mean by risking being unprofessional?

My commute takes about 40-45 minutes consistently. Traffic is rarely an issue as i drive from mississauga to hamilton, against the flow of traffic. I do sometimes stay late and come to campus 2-4 days. Having said this, I have missed on social events in the pasts because it's hard to justify driving 100km for a lunch or a dinner only. 

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I’m a non-trad first year student studying at Mac and I love it. I choose Mac over Alberta’s 4 year program.

 3 years vs 4 years: 3 three years is great for non-trads who are mature and know what they want. I went into med school knowing that I’ll be pursuing family medicine, so I’m not stressed about CARMS or matching. I don’t need the extra time to figure things out. In fact, this shorter timeline works better for my finances and family too. Im used to working full time, so having summers off would feel weird to me. I’m also older so finishing sooner means I can start having kids earlier, which I am very much looking forward to.

Shadowing: Way more opportunities if you can travel. Regional campuses have easier access to horizontal electives. All my preceptors have been amazing. 99% of the time you’ll learn lots and have a great time. I’ve only had one so-so experience with a resident who ghosted me during a horizontal. 

Curriculum: self directed learning and low stakes assessment is great. I have lots of flexibility in my schedule and can tailor my learning to my own pace. Im never stressed about prepping for tutorial or tests. Self-motivation is key to succeeding here. If you’re the type that needs lots of structure, maybe not so good for you.

Electives: It was definitely a struggle to get preclerkship electives during Post MF4. This is the only thing that really stressed me out because I didn’t want to do an elective that I had no interest in and I didn’t want my vacation plans ruined. However, the electives department was able to help and find me an elective after I emailed them. They can be very strict or very nice, really a hit or miss with them. 

For those who have no idea what they want to do, want summers off, prefer to do more research, need more structured style of learning, perhaps a 4 year school would be better for you.  I think if I was younger, like in my early 20s I may have chosen a 4 year school so i can have the summers off to travel the world. 

But life is all about timing after all. Overall I’m glad I choose Mac. It fits my personality, learning style, and current life goals. 

 

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On 5/17/2019 at 1:59 AM, mac-attack said:

The new curriculum is better than our current one :). They get dedicated CaRMS interview time, more time for integration, more vacation, experience all core rotations before CaRMS interviews. These are all changes that have been in development for a while that admin is rolling out finally.

Regarding the change to clerkship streams, does this mean that electives will be after core rotations for the incoming class? (i.e. would it prevent us from starting with electives before we've done cores?)

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On 5/14/2019 at 6:56 PM, Edict said:

It can be hard to match to a competitive specialty from a 3 year program, but its not impossible. If you know what you want going in and you pursue it like your life depended on it, you can do very well. The issue with Mac is its a lot less friendly to people who change their minds. You essentially need to start ruling out specialties in 1st year, and narrow things down to 2 or 3 by the beginning of clerkship and ideally should be down to no more than 1 competitive specialty within a few months of beginning clerkship. 

3rd year chipping in my 2 cents:

For context I have to mention that Mac has done quite well with ophthalmology and Neurosurgery in the last couple of years. For example, this year, all 4 of our neurosurg-potentials matched. So did all of our peds-neuro gunners (an unexpectedly competitive specialty because of the very few spots). We also matched all of our neurology gunners. With respect to plastics and derm, I don't know what the ratio was, but I know a couple that matched to each. We also had the highest overall match rate this year (I think?).  Maybe we've just been getting lucky, but I don'teally buy the myth that it's harder to match from 3 years. .

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1 hour ago, PhD2MD said:

3rd year chipping in my 2 cents:

For context I have to mention that Mac has done quite well with ophthalmology and Neurosurgery in the last couple of years. For example, this year, all 4 of our neurosurg-potentials matched. So did all of our peds-neuro gunners (an unexpectedly competitive specialty because of the very few spots). We also matched all of our neurology gunners. With respect to plastics and derm, I don't know what the ratio was, but I know a couple that matched to each. We also had the highest overall match rate this year (I think?).  Maybe we've just been getting lucky, but I don'teally buy the myth that it's harder to match from 3 years. .

These things are highly variable. Its true in the last year and two Mac has done well, but prior to this Mac had serious trouble matching to plastics, ENT and other specialties. I think its important to not underestimate the realities of a 3 year program. You really do have less time to decide your specialty, less clerkship experience before you decide etc. There are pros of course, saving a year, saving tuition money, but I do think that there are people who will match to a specialty that probably wasn't their true first choice due to the consequences of going to a 3 year school. 

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2 hours ago, Edict said:

These things are highly variable. Its true in the last year and two Mac has done well, but prior to this Mac had serious trouble matching to plastics, ENT and other specialties. I think its important to not underestimate the realities of a 3 year program. You really do have less time to decide your specialty, less clerkship experience before you decide etc. There are pros of course, saving a year, saving tuition money, but I do think that there are people who will match to a specialty that probably wasn't their true first choice due to the consequences of going to a 3 year school. 

Don't all schools vary in the ability to match to those programs? All this tells me is that the 3 year programs are in the same mix as the 4 year programs when it comes to matching. Something they're better, sometimes they're worse, but not systemically different as far as I can tell from experience or data.
That being said, I'm not denying the challenges of a 3 year school, but I am addressing the myth that it systemically impacts your ability to match.

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