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The privilege of being able to volunteer


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I really hope this doesn't come across as attacking certain individuals, or people who have lots of volunteer experience, because thats 1000% not my intention. I guess this is just a vent post because I'm feeling very frustrated with the Canadian medical school system...Every time I see someone posting their ABS on these forums or **DELETED** who has mostly employment experience and less ecs, everyone is quick to suggest doing more volunteer work etc. While I know that people's intentions are in no way bad, it just gets me thinking about how f-ing privileged people have to be to be able to spend time volunteering. I personally have had to work pt retail jobs ever since the age of 16 and throughout uni (most of uni actually working 2 jobs while always taking a full course load). I tried volunteering in a few places but honestly could not justify spending 3 hours filling documents at a hospital to put "hospital volunteer" into my app when I could instead be doing the same thing at a paid job. Don't get me wrong, its not me being greedy for money, but its me trying to make money to support my poor family. When applying to med schools this year, I know my application will be weaker than someone who did not have to work 20+ hours every week while doing school...someone who instead could focus on doing research, volunteering at food banks, etc. It is in no way the applicant's fault..but on a systemic level, the way Canadian med schools entry criteria has been built is just so unfair. 

 

Again, sorry if this post comes off as attacking certain individuals, that is not my goal. I guess I'm just feeling frustrated and needed to vent. I also know there are schools like western that will factor in barrier to med schools and am grateful for that, wish more schools did that.

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I agree. Medical school is largely a rich kids club - probably more so in the US than in Canada though. Not uncommon for people to spend several months travelling, visiting their parents cabins, driving fancy cars, and doing other rich kid things, lol.

I think schools are valuing employment experience more than they used to, but there is a long way to go to increase representation across the socioeconomic status of applicants.

Working retail you learn a lot about people and life. More than most volunteer experiences in my opinion.  I think work experience should be valued more.

Wishing you all the best.

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You are right, volunteering is like people who complain they have too much free time and nothing to do pre-COVID when everyone else is working their ass off, and the same people complain they are too busy working during COVID when everyone else have nothing to do at home because they are laid off. Honestly volunteering sometimes is more virtue signaling, subliminal messaging (aka dog whistling) than anything else. 

Honestly I know this is an unpopular opinion against mainstream trends, but I felt UWO was fairer when they used pure GPA+MCAT for interview cutoff than trying to score people's experiences. Personal experience is way too subjective and can easily be gamed and padded. 

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45 minutes ago, ouiiuu said:

I personally have had to work pt retail jobs ever since the age of 16 and throughout uni (most of uni actually working 2 jobs while always taking a full course load).

Don't get me wrong, its not me being greedy for money, but its me trying to make money to support my poor family.

I would think that schools that look at ECs would take these things into account, if you put your work experience on there and there is usually a space to talk about your lived experiences. I would hope that they could recognize when an atypical set of ECs presents themselves. That being said, a lot of people do volunteering for health care experiences as there are not a lot of paid clinical work to be found, so if you have other health care exposure, and leadership in your job, are supporting dependants, etc that stuff can can account for it.

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And regarding the use of euphemisms, doublethink, subliminal messaging and dog whistling in the medical system, I have a lot to say, but I'll leave you with an example to digest: say a patient presents with skin ulcers, their medical and social history is "extensive" and "complex", and physical examination show no clear cause, should I say:

1) the possibility of factitious ulcers cannot be ruled out in this patient

2) factitious ulcers is still a possibility in this patient

3) factitious ulcers remains in the realm of possibilities for this patient

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4 hours ago, ouiiuu said:

It is in no way the applicant's fault..but on a systemic level, the way Canadian med schools entry criteria has been built is just so unfair. 

 

Yeah, I agree. I also think that the way the system is going, putting a greater deal of emphasis on EC's and the relative devalutaion of the MCAT, will lead to medical school becoming more out of reach for non-rich people. In my public high school, there were a bunch of us that were trying for medicine. Besides me, the only other person who got in was herself a doctor's kid and she was definitely not the smartest or most hard working kid.

She just move out of province to somewhere where it's easier to get into medical school and did a kinesiology degree there all the while boosting her ECs. All the other kids stayed local to save on living costs and did the full science degree with all its grade deflating chemistry and physics courses. She ended up getting into school in  that province while all the other kids that I know are either doing a masters or had to abandon their med-school plan. If they'd had her knowledge of the system and money, they'd have move out of province and done a kinesiology degree as well. With the MCAT losing it's relevance, there's no way for someone who's smart and knowledgeable to set themself apart and overcome a slightly lower GPA. It's an arbitrary and idiotic system that we have in Canada.

We need true holistic admission like the US has. Here you're just a number, but there you're a person.

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On 5/30/2021 at 6:38 PM, zoxy said:

Yeah, I agree. I also think that the way the system is going, putting a greater deal of emphasis on EC's and the relative devalutaion of the MCAT will lead to medical school becoming more out of reach for non-rich people. In my public high school, there were a bunch of us that were trying for medicine. Besides me, the only other person who got in was herself a doctor's kid and she was definitely not the smartest or most hard working kid.

She just move out of province to somewhere where it's easier to get into medical school and did a kinesiology degree there. All the other kids stayed local to save on living costs and did the full science degree with all its grade deflating chemistry and physics courses. She ended up getting in that province while all the other kids that I know are either doing a masters or had to abandon their plan. If they'd had her knowledge of the system, they'd have move out of province and done a kinesiology degree as well. With the MCAT losing it's relevance, there's no way for someone who's smart to set themself apart. It's an arbitrary and idiotic system.

We need true holistic admission like the US has. Here you're just a number, but there you're a person.

Like you point out, there's increasing "streaming" at the Bachelor's level as those that understand the system and have the resources can go to programs/schools where they can achieve higher GPAs.

  • e.g. Mac Health Sci (already likely ~10-5% ON med students), now Queen's health sci...  who knows who many more in the future
  • primarily undergraduate teaching universities where the students may not have as strong backgrounds and faculty are focused on teaching vs major research-focused universities.

UofT has way more undergraduates than Mac, but given MacHealth sci, UofT med actually lets in significantly more McMaster grads. 

https://applymd.utoronto.ca/admission-stats

These trends will likely continue as more health-sci programs come on line (e.g. Queen's will get a bump...)

I went to an academically-renowned public high-school.  A surprising number made it to extremely successful staff - quite a few did have parents in medicine.  My med school experience in later life in French was absolute nightmare, but in high-school I even took some courses a "year ahead" and interacted with these future staff.    

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On 5/30/2021 at 4:57 PM, indefatigable said:
  • e.g. Mac Health Sci (already almost ~10-5% ON med students), now Queen's health sci...  who knows who many more in the future
  • primarily undergraduate teaching universities where the students may not have as strong backgrounds vs major research-focused universities.

The fact that programs like these exist is disgusting. They talk about oh how the kids entering are soooo smart and of course they'd get A's at the university level. Well the Ivy-Plus schools also have really smart kids, look at their SAT scores. But you don't have science classes there where everyone gets an A+ like Mac and Queens Health Sci. Even Brown, the most grade inflated of the Ivy-Plus schools, has a median GPA of 3.7.  Even then, science Majors at Brown average around 3.5-3.6 with humanities major having 3.8s. My undergrad experience getting a STEM degree at my Ivy-Plus US school was absolutely brutal GPA wise. If only I'd had the foresight to do a bird degree here in Canada.

And with the way US admissions is set up, you need a year of English, gen-chem, orgo, biology, physics, and a semester of biochem. Some of the more rigorous medical schools like Harvard, Duke, and Hopkins even require a year of calculus and a statistics class is highly recommended. There's no way to do a major in underwater basket weaving and then get into medical school like it is possible in Canada. They also value the MCAT much more than Canada. It's disgraceful that UofT accepts more Mac undergrads than it does UofT undergrads.

And with Queens jumping on the bandwagon of having a program where everyone gets an A, it's only a matter of time before other schools start programs like that. And yet most medical school's won't adapt by getting more aggressive in weighing the MCAT. I commend Western, Sask, and Manitoba for doing something unpopular by valuing a standardized test when everyone else is devaluing it.

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Thank you everyone for your thoughts. I initially wrote this just to vent, but I feel much more validated now that I see others agree with me. For anyone who is in a similar situation as me reading this, please know you're not "too lazy" or just "didn't work hard enough" for not having lots of ECs (like I've been beating myself about tbh). There's only so many hours in one day and working 3-5 days a week while doing a full course load is not easy. 

I will try my best to word my employment experiences in a way which reflects what I have learned, and hope that it resonates with the reviewers. If I ever do get into medicine, I also promise to use my voice and advocate for others with SES or other barriers. Good luck on your journeys everyone!!!

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4 hours ago, shikimate said:

You are right, volunteering is like people who complain they have too much free time and nothing to do pre-COVID when everyone else is working their ass off, and the same people complain they are too busy working during COVID when everyone else have nothing to do at home because they are laid off. Honestly volunteering sometimes is more virtue signaling, subliminal messaging (aka dog whistling) than anything else. 

Honestly I know this is an unpopular opinion against mainstream trends, but I felt UWO was fairer when they used pure GPA+MCAT for interview cutoff than trying to score people's experiences. Personal experience is way too subjective and can easily be gamed and padded. 

I think that goes the other way too... I do think that just having grades is not the best but that's my opinion as a non-trad applicant in the past. 

I don't think there will ever truly be a fair system but if there's at least a way to not look down on the guy working 2 jobs to keep afloat vs the guy travelling to Zimbabwe for a mission then that evens the field somewhat. 

- G  

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38 minutes ago, GH0ST said:

I think that goes the other way too... I do think that just having grades is not the best but that's my opinion as a non-trad applicant in the past. 

I don't think there will ever truly be a fair system but if there's at least a way to not look down on the guy working 2 jobs to keep afloat vs the guy travelling to Zimbabwe for a mission then that evens the field somewhat. 

- G  

Attaining high grades is a lot more achievable for people who come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Even standardized tests are affected by this.  I'm not sure what the solution is.

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It's really true. People who grew up affluent are naturally going to have more capabilities to volunteer, more relevant connections whether it's knowing people who got into medicine, healthcare professionals and a way easier time studying in university when they don't need to worry about making ends meet, hiring tutors if they need to 

 

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2 hours ago, jb24 said:

I'm not sure what the solution is.

That makes sense since there is no solution. 

1. Emphasize GPA - we already know high SES upbringing tends to correlate with higher grades. 

2. Emphasize MCAT - Same relationship with GPA (although I vaguely recall seeing some article say that admission tests are actually the best way to sort since they're less vulnerable to "knowing the system" like grades are and this makes sense. If someone has high grades they could have been in an easy program, someone with a high MCAT took a universally standardized test). 

3. Emphasize ECs. Does anyone not think that if medical schools made it clear that work experience was the new 4.0/132 the energy wouldn't go towards this? If, as per the anecdotal example, some people are willing to move provinces at 17/18 I really doubt they're not going to go to find a job if that's the cost of admission. If the high SES student already has an academic advantage they can afford to work more without impacting grades without losing their edge or shift from volunteer>work. Net edge to them still even if it is a good move and benefits the person who had to work. 

4. Emphasize "life experience/grad degrees". The only people I know taking endless gap years are rich kids (anecdotal evidence notwithstanding). Who is going to be more confident taking on the risk of this approach and constantly reapplying, someone with a bank of mom and dad as a fallback or someone else? If you design a sorting tool to sort out people above a certain income threshold (parental or own) you're going to have to make an incredibly strong argument for such a complete change. When you think of how heavily medicine as a field is tied to a high level of competence in public perception you would have an extremally difficult time convincing everyone to deemphasize these competence based measures and trust your tool instead. Far more likely is the current route of adding low SES streams/rejigging processes to try and level the playing field using traditional measures like GPA/MCAT/CASPer (which is supposedly better for low SES applicants) rather than explicitly drag the high SES kids down, which is far more palatable to most. Even in this system medicine (like every other white collar profession) will still have an abundance of high SES people. 

This isn't unique to medical school admissions. Kids born to higher SES parents start further ahead, argue if it's nature or nurture, it's the same in every single field I can think of that they would want to chase. Medical school admissions are remarkably equitable in comparison to business fields where "networking" is the name of the game.  Putting on my conflict theorist glasses it's really inevitable that people from better positioned groups will take advantage of this to push their kids ahead, or their kids take advantage for themselves even if their parents don't actively push (who wouldn't want to leverage any advantage to obtain a highly sought after goal?), and people outside that group will think the same. This happens in every single human system. Even in communist countries committed to tearing down hierarchies the families of the ruling elite somehow did better. 

This isn't a knock on OP's complaints either, more of an observation when this comes up as a venting session. I share their dismay at how "volunteer hours" spent standing around, on phones, or doing very low-impact to no impact activities appear to be valued. However, I do think the tides are turning to recognize that work experience is valuable, and hopefully with time schools change their forms to remove set boxes for "volunteering" and allow more freeform response (ala OMSAS, not UofA "5 volunteering things per category") and that's where some of that advice is coming from, merely trying to satisfy the desire to fill out the whole application. 

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High SES is an advantage in every facet of life.

But that being said, standardized examinations and GPA are theoretically testing for actual skills you have (reading comprehension, science knowledge, discipline, etc.), even if the acquisition of said skills are advantaged for the wealthy. This is very different from most ECs which are not really an evaluation of any of your skills or accomplishments, but a measure of how well connected you are and how well you are able to put a "spin" on what you've done. Even the few ECs that may indicate your character/resilience are still influenced heavily by your background SES.

I don't like GPA either because the kind of undergrad you did is a massive factor (engineering vs hard maths vs regular life sci vs "health sci" for example).

If it were up to me, I'd weigh it 40% MCAT, 40% interview 5% ECs, 15% GPA.

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To OP, your employment experiences will for sure be an asset. Doing research and volunteering at food banks is just as valuable as working a job. The true value of ECs comes in how you share your story by showing schools what you've learnt and gained from them. 

Goodluck!

 

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On 5/31/2021 at 1:13 AM, MedicineLCS said:

That makes sense since there is no solution. 

1. Emphasize GPA - we already know high SES upbringing tends to correlate with higher grades. 

2. Emphasize MCAT - Same relationship with GPA (although I vaguely recall seeing some article say that admission tests are actually the best way to sort since they're less vulnerable to "knowing the system" like grades are and this makes sense. If someone has high grades they could have been in an easy program, someone with a high MCAT took a universally standardized test). 

3. Emphasize ECs. Does anyone not think that if medical schools made it clear that work experience was the new 4.0/132 the energy wouldn't go towards this? If, as per the anecdotal example, some people are willing to move provinces at 17/18 I really doubt they're not going to go to find a job if that's the cost of admission. If the high SES student already has an academic advantage they can afford to work more without impacting grades without losing their edge or shift from volunteer>work. Net edge to them still even if it is a good move and benefits the person who had to work. 

4. Emphasize "life experience/grad degrees". The only people I know taking endless gap years are rich kids (anecdotal evidence notwithstanding). Who is going to be more confident taking on the risk of this approach and constantly reapplying, someone with a bank of mom and dad as a fallback or someone else? If you design a sorting tool to sort out people above a certain income threshold (parental or own) you're going to have to make an incredibly strong argument for such a complete change. When you think of how heavily medicine as a field is tied to a high level of competence in public perception you would have an extremally difficult time convincing everyone to deemphasize these competence based measures and trust your tool instead. Far more likely is the current route of adding low SES streams/rejigging processes to try and level the playing field using traditional measures like GPA/MCAT/CASPer (which is supposedly better for low SES applicants) rather than explicitly drag the high SES kids down, which is far more palatable to most. Even in this system medicine (like every other white collar profession) will still have an abundance of high SES people. 

This isn't unique to medical school admissions. Kids born to higher SES parents start further ahead, argue if it's nature or nurture, it's the same in every single field I can think of that they would want to chase. Medical school admissions are remarkably equitable in comparison to business fields where "networking" is the name of the game.  Putting on my conflict theorist glasses it's really inevitable that people from better positioned groups will take advantage of this to push their kids ahead, or their kids take advantage for themselves even if their parents don't actively push (who wouldn't want to leverage any advantage to obtain a highly sought after goal?), and people outside that group will think the same. This happens in every single human system. Even in communist countries committed to tearing down hierarchies the families of the ruling elite somehow did better. 

This isn't a knock on OP's complaints either, more of an observation when this comes up as a venting session. I share their dismay at how "volunteer hours" spent standing around, on phones, or doing very low-impact to no impact activities appear to be valued. However, I do think the tides are turning to recognize that work experience is valuable, and hopefully with time schools change their forms to remove set boxes for "volunteering" and allow more freeform response (ala OMSAS, not UofA "5 volunteering things per category") and that's where some of that advice is coming from, merely trying to satisfy the desire to fill out the whole application. 

Battle royal, a test of physical ability to overcome the crutches of being under privileged!

But for real this, its sad that the reality is being from a disadvantaged SES affects you from all angles and the only potential work around that i could even see having a remote chance of working is a different  admission criteria based on SES ( giving an advantage to people from low SES, or reserved seats, etc)

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On 5/30/2021 at 5:27 PM, ouiiuu said:

I really hope this doesn't come across as attacking certain individuals, or people who have lots of volunteer experience, because thats 1000% not my intention. I guess this is just a vent post because I'm feeling very frustrated with the Canadian medical school system...Every time I see someone posting their ABS on these forums or **DELETED** who has mostly employment experience and less ecs, everyone is quick to suggest doing more volunteer work etc. While I know that people's intentions are in no way bad, it just gets me thinking about how f-ing privileged people have to be to be able to spend time volunteering. I personally have had to work pt retail jobs ever since the age of 16 and throughout uni (most of uni actually working 2 jobs while always taking a full course load). I tried volunteering in a few places but honestly could not justify spending 3 hours filling documents at a hospital to put "hospital volunteer" into my app when I could instead be doing the same thing at a paid job. Don't get me wrong, its not me being greedy for money, but its me trying to make money to support my poor family. When applying to med schools this year, I know my application will be weaker than someone who did not have to work 20+ hours every week while doing school...someone who instead could focus on doing research, volunteering at food banks, etc. It is in no way the applicant's fault..but on a systemic level, the way Canadian med schools entry criteria has been built is just so unfair. 

 

Again, sorry if this post comes off as attacking certain individuals, that is not my goal. I guess I'm just feeling frustrated and needed to vent. I also know there are schools like western that will factor in barrier to med schools and am grateful for that, wish more schools did that.

MOST of my extra curricular entries were employment and not volunteer based. I did a few small volunteer roles here and there but predominantly I was working because frankly I had to work full time while in university (rent has to get paid). Between classes, research and work that did not leave a ton of room for a lot of volunteer work. 

I completely agree there are parts of the application process that absolutely favour higher SES students (medicine remains a club of privilege) but don't sell yourself short on your application before you've even submitted it. You can learn as much or more from a job as you would at a volunteer position.

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On 6/2/2021 at 8:09 AM, Pakoon said:

SES ( giving an advantage to people from low SES, or reserved seats, etc)

Saskatchewan and Manitoba have this already. At Sask It's a separate stream for IP applicants with 6 reserved seats called DSAAP while Manitoba gives extra points according to SES and rural attributes.

On 6/2/2021 at 8:09 AM, Pakoon said:

Battle royal, a test of physical ability to overcome the crutches of being under privileged!

Trial by Combat! Trial by River! Trial by Fire! I bet they'd be just as valid as the CASPer.

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Does every med school have a section for applicants to write about their SES and why they might lack volunteer experience or only a few (like Sask and Manitoba) as the poster mentioned above?

It would be better if med schools got rid of the volunteer criteria altogether and just put it as one section as 'extracurricular experience' which includes work.

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1 hour ago, becomingmd said:

Does every med school have a section for applicants to write about their SES and why they might lack volunteer experience or only a few (like Sask and Manitoba) as the poster mentioned above?

It would be better if med schools got rid of the volunteer criteria altogether and just put it as one section as 'extracurricular experience' which includes work.

TBH, I wish every school has something like this. Although some schools are  trying to figure out how to increase Low SES representation, the rollout is still very slow... almost as though they seem hesitant to do so. 

Medical education in both Canada and USA are still majorly populated with elitists and I wouldn't be surprised that those in bureaucratic power are lobbying to gate keep as long as possible. 

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On 5/31/2021 at 3:33 PM, 1D7 said:

 

I don't like GPA either because the kind of undergrad you did is a massive factor (engineering vs hard maths vs regular life sci vs "health sci" for example).

Well, we have the R-Score in Quebec, which takes into account what undergrad you did in order to analyze your GPA (4.0 in art woud give a lower R-Score than 4.0 in engineering). But even with that alternative, it raises some issues and concerns. I dont think there is one way that will satisfy everyone, unfortunately. 

And we dont even take EC's into account - at all (except for McGill).

As for the OP, I agree, unfortunately. Med school is usually made of privileged people, as social reproduction nurtures this outcome. Some universities like U Montréal and U Laval are implementing new ways to encourage students from lower income families to pursue medical school. I think they are getting more and more aware of this issue. 

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