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CaRMS Pre-Game: Preparing for the Interview

January 13, 2013

It’s that time of year again. The references are in, the applications are complete, interviews have been accepted, flights are booked and medical students across Canada are preparing themselves for the rigamarole known as CaRMS that will determine where they will be living for the next 2-5 years and what kind of medicine they will be practicing for the rest of their lives.

It’s a bit stressful.

As I wrote about interviews I realized I could take these posts in two directions. I could speak broadly about residency interviews in general (ie – don’t get drunk at the social), or focus in on the specifics of what I know: the EM interviews for the FRCPC programs in Canada. I decided to go with the latter to allow for specifically pertinent advice. As a result, this will be less applicable to lots of people, but hopefully very relevant to the applicants that I will be meeting in a few short weeks.

In my 2nd post for the “Mentorship” section I hope to help you de-stressify by offering some advice on preparing for the tour. I had hoped to also offer interview advice in this post, but due to length and fatigue, I have decided to split it into two. This post will be followed by one on the interviews themselves sometime next week.

My perspective on this has been formed by my experiences. I was an applicant on the EM interview tour in 2010, interviewed in 2012 and helped to create rank-lists in 2011 and 2012. Keep in mind that it is my perspective and some people are bound to disagree. Try to get as many perspectives on this as you can so you can develop a well-rounded view.

Onto the advice:

Pre-game: Preparing for the Interviews

1 – Know your application

Anything that you put on it is fair game to ask you about so you better be able to talk about it! In many of the interviews you will have an opportunity to steer it towards things you want to talk about to some degree, but sometimes an interviewer will be very interested in a particular thing about you and ask you about it. Be prepared!

2 – Know yourself

Cheesy? Hell ya. Important? Very. Things to think about:

Tell me about yourself.

A frequent opening to the interviews, it’s actually a hard question. Recognize that it is your opportunity to play some role in directing where the interview will go because the things you bring up here are more likely to come up again. It’s an easy question to ramble on about so be succinct. Please don’t tell us your entire life story! I think an “elevator speech” (google it) would be appropriate.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

For real. Doing that thing where you name a weakness but then talk about how it’s really a strength (ie – sometimes I take on too much, but look at my application, aren’t I a total rockstar?) is total BS. We all have weaknesses, if you don’t know what yours are you need to work on your insight. Similarly, be proud to tell us what you’re good at – we’re giving you the opportunity!

Why do you want to be an emergency doctor?

This is another question that you should expect and be able to crush. You should have a good answer already, but make sure you can respond eloquently because you’ll be asked it a lot. Consider what about your personality and lifestyle make you a good fit for EM and have a good understanding of the drawbacks of the specialty.

What would you want to subspecialize in? (phrased in various more elegant ways)

With most FRCPC-EM programs allowing their residents to combine elective time with time for “developing a subspecialty interest in EM,” this is something you will be asked about. I don’t think you need to know for sure, but you should certainly know what areas interest you. Are you big into research? Education? Toxicology? Hyperbaric medicine? Tropical medicine? Simulation? Public Health? Geriatrics? Sports med? Trauma? Pediatrics? Ultrasound? Quality improvement? Pre-hospital medicine? Cruise ship medicine? Administration? Business? Critical care? Disaster medicine? Palliative care? (I will be writing about the 823023801038 potential EM subspecialty areas some other time!) And, more importantly, why? I think its fair to say that most programs want a resident that will ultimately be able to take on a leadership role in some aspect of our specialty. There’s lots to choose from and no one is going to hold you to it, but I think you should have thought about it.

Tell me about a time when…

These are questions that the interviewers seemed to love when I went through my CaRMS questions. Known as “behavioral-based interviewing,” my understanding is that they’re trying to assess you for a characteristic by asking for a time when you displayed it. You then have to come up with some sort of story to tell them about how you demonstrated leadership or empathy or whatever. In any case, the way to prep for these questions is to come up with a lot of stories from your training that could be applied to demonstrate various traits (if you had a journal at all now would be a great time to bust that out!). I found a guide that goes over prepping for this type of interview question. It’s freely available here starting on page 3. Take a look through it, it’s a good guide for prepping for interviews in general.

3 – Know your programs

I think all of the emergency medicine programs in the country are quite good, but they offer different things. For example, programs can be new or old, small or large, in a big city or a small town, do lots of simulation or little, do ultrasound early or late, have different curricula and do varying amounts of research.

These might be huge positives for some applicants and negatives for others. More likely, some of those characteristics are positives for you and others are negatives. Regardless, you should be able to say why you’d be excited to move to each city and program. If you don’t know anything about them, you’re not going to be able to say.

How should you go about this? The first and easiest way is to check out the websites. We all have them and they should have a lot of good information describing what we’re all about. If you know any medical students or residents from a school they’re also a good resource for this information. Regardless, I think it should be your goal to know enough about each program that you interview at to be able to have a conversation with one of the staff or residents and ask some educated questions about it. We’re proud of our programs and are pumped to talk about them!

4 – Know your flights/accommodations

This is complicated! If you’ve been lucky enough to snag >6 interviews you’re going to be all over the map. This is even worse if you’ve applied to any other specialties and have to fit their interviews in with all of your spare time.

Fortunately, the EM interviews are rationally arranged from East to West or West to East depending on the year. Every program owns one day in the 3 week period that is exclusively theirs for the purpose of EM interviews. Some (most?) programs have a second day, but they generally aren’t allowed to offer interviews to people being interviewed by the program that owns it. This makes it possible for you to attend every single EM interview if you were lucky enough to snag invites to all of them (usually a few people each year pull this off). However, that will hurt. And its also crazy expensive. Save yourself some extra stress en-route (the interviews are enough!) and get this sorted before you start.

Travel tips:

It is really difficult and crazy stressful to get all of your flights/accommodations arranged. Doing this tour in our frigid snowstorm-filled January weather seems to be some sort of perverse Canadian MD right of passage. Occasionally, you’re going to have to take a hit and book a flight/room that’s more expensive than you wanted to. The important thing is to start piece by piece as soon as you can. Most schools get their interview invites in by around Christmas (Toronto being some weird exception – they never seem to send them until sometime well into January), but its hard to make solid plans until you have your interview/tour times. As soon as you do you should be booking.

Making socials is important, especially at the smaller programs, so try to arrange your travel to allow for that. Sometimes the only way for that to happen would be to arrange for teleportation directly between cities. We know that’s not possible and empathize with you, but still think that you being at our social is more important than you catching the end of that other school’s tour. Seriously though, I think the best way to combat this is generally getting a morning tour and an early afternoon interview so that you can be off to the airport as soon as its over.

Money-saving Tips:
-The CFMS used to have a small WestJet discount. I’m not sure if they still do, but every little bit counts!
-Air Canada has had flight passes that have worked well for some in the past. Check out if they would work for your interviews schedule.
-Find a travel buddy – hopefully there’s someone you know with a schedule similar to yours that you can bunk and share taxis with. has been popular in previous years for booking cheaper accommodations.
-Bum rides – especially in Ontario, there are lots of people driving from interview to interview. If they’re from Ontario, they’re generally driving. Consider a strategy of holding off on booking buses/trains and offering some cash to the friendly Ontario applicants (yes, this may be more stressful – if you’re OCD about how you’re going to get everywhere definitely figure it out before). They’re generally happy to have the company (and cash) and its much easier and cheaper for you. If it falls through, last minute trains/buses are not hard to book. Hopefully there won’t be a dreaded Ontario snowstorm this year…

As always, thanks for reading. Any and all feedback is appreciated – send me an e-mail or write it in the comments. If you appreciated this post, please follow my RSS feed (top right corner), sign up to receive e-mails when I post (right column), e-mail your friends/colleagues, post it on facebook, tweet it, retweet it or direct others to it!

Brent Thoma @boringem


From → Mentorship

  1. Program-sanctioned dodgeball?!?!?!

    Who would choose anything else!!!

  2. Wow, that is a ton of great info. Thanks for the post!

  3. chrislipp permalink

    Thanks Brent for such a helpful posting as I prepare for my interviews. A+

  4. Corey V permalink

    so good – came across this at the right time. Thanks for the input – cheers!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. CaRMS Game Time: The Interviews « boringem
  2. CaRMS Post-game: The Rank List « boringem
  3. The Reference Letter Triple Crown « BoringEM

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