Selecting the best for our future: MD undergraduate admissions procedures at UBC

UBC now admits 256 medical students each year, one of the largest first-year classes for a medical school in North America. Selecting the best individuals for these coveted positions is a comprehensive, complex, and challenging task. The admissions process of the MD undergraduate program in­cludes multiple interviews conducted by academics, clinicians, medical students, and community members. This and other aspects of the selection process are designed to increase the number of Aboriginal physicians in the province and the number of physicians able and willing to practise in rural, remote, and northern regions.

A large team of decision-makers now participates in several levels of evaluation and a structured interview process to ensure that we educate physicians who can serve the needs of the province.

Obtaining a coveted seat in an MD undergraduate pro­gram is not easy. Many highly qualified individuals are not accepted the first time around, and others not at all. With the acceptance rate at a small percentage of submitted applications (between 12% and 17% during the last 3 years at the University of British Columbia), it is easy to understand why so many good individuals are turned away. 

While many applicants may have the necessary credentials for the program, not all have the same potential to become the kind of health professionals we hope to train. Evaluating applicants is critical to ensuring we educate health professionals who can serve the needs of the province once their training is complete.

The students that UBC’s MD un­der­graduate program seeks are well-rounded individuals from a variety of backgrounds who are motivated, mature, and have a genuine concern for human welfare. Inclusiveness, equity, and transparency are the hallmarks of our admissions process. 

We are committed to increasing both the number of Aboriginal physicians in British Columbia and the number of physicians able and willing to practise in rural, remote, and northern regions.

For the class admitted in 2007, a total of 1580 applications were re­ceiv­ed and 630 interviews were conducted for 256 places. Where possible, students were matched to their site of preference. This meant placing 32 students in the Northern Medical Program (NMP), 32 students in the Island Medical Program (IMP), and the re­maining 192 in the Vancouver Fraser Medical Program (VFMP). For the class admitted in 2008, more than 1800 applications were received.
Applicants begin by submitting an application form and documents for evaluation. Interview invitations are then sent to selected applicants. Successful applicants are matched to one of three medical programs based on several factors. Applicants rank their site of preference around the time of the interview, but it is only after they have been deemed admissible that this factor comes into play. 

Students also complete a rural statement at the time of application to help determine if they are well matched to training and working in the rural setting. This takes into account experiences in the rural, remote, northern, or Aboriginal settings, experiences showing independence and self-reliance, as well as activities compatible with living and working in a rural setting. 

The rural statement and additional questions on the application form play an important role in ensuring a match of the best suited candidates to the NMP.

With only 1 Aboriginal physician for every 30000 Aboriginal British Columbians, the Faculty of Medicine is trying to tackle the problem of under­representation by meeting a target set in 1999 to fill 5% of the annual complement of funded seats with Aboriginal students. 

To achieve this goal, an Aboriginal pre-admissions program was put in place to encourage and support Aboriginal applicants interested in pursuing a career in medicine. In addition to the regular application pro­cess, Aboriginal applicants submit an essay and are reviewed by an Aboriginal admissions subcommittee. These applicants also undergo an additional Aboriginal interview process.

Applicants are assessed by a number of academics, clinicians, medical students, and community members during the interview process. This means that a diverse and represen­tative group helps to select medical students for UBC’s province-wide program. 

Recently the semi-structured three-member panel interview used in the past was replaced with the Multiple Mini Interview. This structured interview format is based on the Objective Structured Clinical Examination. Candidates visit up to 12 stations and spend 10 minutes at each one. 

The format has been well researched and is a reliable, predictable, and practical method of interviewing. It is becoming increasingly popular, and has been instituted by many MD undergraduate programs and health care disciplines in Canada and abroad.

Throughout the selection process applications are considered without regard to the applicant’s age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ancestry, color, place of origin, family status, physical or mental disability, political belief, religion, or marital or economic status. 

The applications go through several levels of evaluation and are reviewed by a large team of decision-makers. During the final stages of the admissions cycle, several committees vote on each applicant considered for admission. The final selection committees refer to applicants only by number, and not by name or gender, eliminating any bias. 

A committee made up of faculty from all the selection committees then ensures the final selection has been fair, unbiased, and consistent. 

Research and self-evaluation are key to the success of any admissions process. Some of the things we research on an ongoing basis include the admissions criteria and how they accord with performance. 

Despite the challenge of choosing 256 students each year—one of the largest classes admitted to a medical school in North America—we expect to continue selecting the best individuals to become our fu­ture physicians for British Columbia. 
For more information about admissions to the UBC MD undergraduate program, visit

Competing interests
None declared.

Dr Michael Clifford Fabian is associate dean of Admissions, MD undergraduate program, UBC, and an assistant clinical professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, UBC.

Michael Clifford Fabian, FRCPC, FRCSC, FACS. Selecting the best for our future: MD undergraduate admissions procedures at UBC. BCMJ, Vol. 50, No. 7, September, 2008, Page(s) 376-377 - Clinical Articles.

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