CaRMS (AKA Gauntlet of Extreme Peril and Social Distress)

It’s time.

It’s here.

This fathermucker right here.

(All the 4th year med students are currently hissing at their screen.  Fear it.  Feeeeeeear it.)

The Canadian Residency Matching Service has been a necessarily evil part of every Canuck med student’s experience since 1970.  Matching about 1000 fourth year medical students to their preferred specialty and site of choice, while taking each program’s preferred students into account all through a centralized process is a logistical nightmare, and The Gauntlet somewhat reflects that.

(I want to stress how much I appreciate the work that the CaRMS folks do, whether it’s upgrading their system to a more user-friendly version or manning the phones for calming panicked med students.  It’s just a hilarious and ridiculous adventure I wanna share.)

So what is CaRMS exactly?

  • The Application

While it certainly isn’t the most gruelling part of the experience, filling out oodles of pages on every club you ever took an interest in and every paper you ever had 50th authorship on takes each student approximately 300 years.  The system has been vastly improved over the years, but it’s still hugely time-consuming.  And the most difficult, hair-tearing bit is the reference letters.  For some people, their references are all over the country and getting in touch with them can be tricky (never mind awkward, if you hadn’t introduced the idea at the time you worked with them).  Thankfully, there’s an electronic submission.  But if they elect to go the paper route, you express mail everything, courier if need be, and wait anxiously for the “Received” status to appear on the website before the “milestone” (i.e. the date that CaRMS can guarantee the paperwork will be processed before the system is closed.)

  • The Programs

For many specialties, this isn’t a big deal.  If you’re interested in dermatology, you apply to all the programs in the country and have a parallel plan in case that doesn’t work out.  Unfortunately, if you’re like me and have chosen family medicine, there are dozens of programs from Victoria to St. John’s and applying for them all borders on the insane.  So you choose mostly based on location and the reputation of the program – I honestly had no idea of the ins and outs of each program until I interviewed!  (WhooooAA, livin’ on a praaaaayer…).  So you choose and you cough up the rest of the fees you need to apply.

  • The Long Wait

Your letters are in, the application’s complete, the programs applied to… and now you wait.  The website is closed to applicants in late November and the reference letters made available to programs in early December.  This rapidly became an extremely stressful exercise in patience and positive self-talk.  “It’s still early, don’t freak out.”  “There are tons of applicants, don’t freak out.”  “You can’t change your application now anyway, don’t freak out.”  Then the interview dates are released, usually not all at once.  Which makes scheduling even scarier.  Do you book it on day #1 and hope that you can make it to another interview the next day?  Or do you book it on day #3 and give up a different interview?  I lucked out and got interviews for everything I applied for, but you can technically get offers right up until the day before.  Try planning travel around that.

  • The Tour

Once all your flights and accommodations are arranged, the tour begins in earnest.  If you’re lucky, the programs coordinate so that the interviews go from west to east or vice versa.  Not so much for me this year.  My first interview was in Vancouver, the next in Halifax.  Hmm.  It’s 3 weeks of pure sensory overload; you’re bombarded with presentations on the programs you did and didn’t apply for, there’s a gazillion residents and program directors to meet, there’s (usually) delicious food everywhere, there’s the stress of the interviews themselves (I want to make them think I’m cool but not self-important but not too shy but not obnoxious…), and then there’s the socials.  Those social event things where this “networking” stuff takes place.  Point is, it’s all highly geared towards extroverts who love groups of people and chatting and high energy situations (which is totally great and appropriate, good on you).  However.  For those of us who have to expend energy on every social interaction, it’s an exhausting process.  All I usually end up doing at night is reading or watching Disney movies in my cushy hotel bed.  Oh, and it’s expensive.  Like, WOW expensive.  Usually money well spent, however – after discovering a totally full hospital parking lot, I got myself a parking ticket for using another building’s lot so that I wouldn’t miss my Red Deer interview.  #yolo  #soworthit

  • The List

Today, January 30th 2014, is when the rank list system opens.  The system where you look at the metric ton of information you’ve acquired and try to decide where you’d like to spend the next 2-7 years of your life.  Do you like the location?  The residents?  The call schedule and lifestyle?  Block vs longitudinal style?  The amount of elective time?  Funding for courses and conferences?  The special focus of that program?  Do you have to uproot your family/significant other to go there?  Do you plan on practicing there or somewhere similar?  It’s a hell of a lot to synthesize into one neat list.  At the same time, all the programs come up with their own lists and some near-magical algorithm puts everything altogether to come up with…

  • The Match

Arguably the most exciting day in medical school.  This year it’s March 5 (two boxes around it on my calendar) that we all receive our emails either telling us where we’ll be going.  Or if we’ll be going.  There’s always the terrifying possibility, especially if you chose a high-risk specialty, that you don’t match in the first round.  Then you have a few days to madly apply everywhere else, a bit more time to interview, and hopefully you get one the second time around.  That being said, my med school has a pretty good record and going unmatched is extremely rare.  So Match Day is PARTY TIIIIIIME!!


So that’s the story.  Best of luck to everyone in their last week of interviews, (hopefully) see you all March 5th!

 – Atalanta



Filed under Medicine, Personal & Blogs

2 responses to “CaRMS (AKA Gauntlet of Extreme Peril and Social Distress)

  1. This sounds similar to the process that our Clinical Placement Team goes through. This is a group of four ladies who arrange the clinical placements for all of our practical nurse students, among other things (they also provide support to students who are struggling in clinical). June, the head of CPT, told my students once that every year she attends a fight, also known as a meeting (her words) to determine which institution gets which placements – remember that we share placements with nursing students, health care aide students, and med students. I THANK GOD every day that I’m not in charge of that – my only involvement in clinical is to have a list of students in preceptorship to follow, phone them up or see them once a week, and mark their clinical journals – and I only do that for 4 months of the year 🙂 I think if I had to deal with all of that arranging clinicals – even if it was just for ONE student – I’d go nuts.

  2. Pingback: Things you learn… on vacation | Atalanta's Antics

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