Game Time: The CaRMS Interview

In CaRMS Guide, Mentorship by Brent Thoma8 Comments

  1. This is part two of the CaRMS Trilogy and will focus on CaRMS interviews. See Pre-game: CaRMS Interview Preparation and Post-game: The CaRMS Rank List for discussion of other aspects of CaRMS and the full CaRMS Guide for the complete series of medical student mentorship posts.

    There are generally three parts to the CaRMS interview: the social, the tour, and the interviews. I can speak best to the FRCPC-EM tour because that is the one I have been a part of as a student, resident, and program director. Interviews for other specialties will have a lot of commonalities, but I’m sure there are differences too.

    The CaRMS Interview Social

    These are usually held the night before the interview day that is “owned” by that school (as discussed in my last post, that may not be the only day a program is interviewing). They are most often held at a pub and offer greasy appetizers and free booze. Occasionally, a program will get creative and go bowling or buy supper. The Social is an opportunity to meet your fellow applicants, the staff, the residents, and the PDs in a more casual environment.

    What to wear:

    One of the biggest applicant stressors seems to be one that matters very little: what to wear. In general, I’d say that I don’t think anyone actually cares what you wear, but I’ll offer two caveats to that.

    • If a program specifically tells you what to wear, go with that. They may be having their social somewhere snazzy. is infinitely more qualified to interpret the “dress code lingo” than I am (I wear scrubs to work every day). If they don’t, I’d say business casual-ish is fine although erring on the side of business formal won’t hurt you and would be preferable to being underdressed.
    • Don’t wear something really weird. Everyone has heard stories of applicants showing up dressed less-than-professional. While that orange suit might look great, it probably won’t make a good impression.

    There are reasons that you will want to stand out on the CaRMS tour, but what you are wearing probably isn’t one of them. Play it safe.

    What not to do:

    Get drunk – accidentally or on purpose. Almost all of the socials will have open bars which make this a definite ‘social hazard.’ While it’s possible that the residents will think that you’re cool because you had a bunch of drinks with them and stayed out super late, it is more likely to embarrass you. Even if it doesn’t, good luck getting engaged in your tour the next day or rocking your interview. If you’re one of those people that is still young enough to pop out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning while the rest of your classmates are stumbling towards the bathroom, remember that you likely still have a lonnnng interview tour and you will be exhausted by the end of it. Don’t waste yourself on this. Even if your alcohol tolerance is amazing, you probably shouldn’t drink more than the residents/staff.

    The social is generally not part of the interview that is going to make or break you on the rank list, but it can bump you up slightly or down a lot depending on how you interact.

    What to do:

    Meet the other applicants. Please don’t look at these people as your competition, it is not worth it. While in a way, they are, remember that each of them can only take a single spot. Even if one of them does beat you somewhere, once they pick where they want to go, they’re not competing with you anymore. They can only take one of the 70ish CMG spots. Even if you go into this with a competitive perspective (which you shouldn’t because it’ll make you look like a jerk), most students come away from the CaRMS tour with at least some good acquaintances. It’s hard not to when you’re going on such a grueling tour with such a great group of people. Other reasons to play nice include:

    • You’ll be seeing them around a lot at different interviews
    • If you match to the same place you can be new friends
    • You can save money by car-pooling
    • You can save money by sharing rooms
    • They’ll be your colleagues for decades
    • They’re safe people to hang out with at the socials and the pre-interview when you don’t know anyone else

    Meet the residents – This social is your opportunity to get the inside view of the program if you weren’t able to do an elective there. Talk to the residents about what they like, what they don’t like, and what is changing in the program. Observe how they interact – dynamics will range from “happy family” to “we do our own thing”, and chances are that you’ll fit in with one of those better than the other. Talk to them about their fellowship plans. Ask if they or any of the staff are working in any of the areas that you are interested in.

    Meet the staff – See how many of them came to the social to get a rough idea of how engaged they are. Observe how they interact with the residents. Find out what their areas of interest are from the residents. If there is anyone there with an interest similar to your own, go introduce yourself to them and ask them about it! There’s nothing an attending likes more than to meet a prospective resident that is as pumped about their obscure little area as they are.

    Introduce yourself to the PD – This is a tough one. It’s always easy to pick out the PD at these parties because they are the ones standing in the middle of a semi-circle full of eager medical students. That makes them hard to talk to. However, I still think you should go and introduce yourself to them. Take the middle ground when you do: don’t stand around in the semi-circle for hours on end attempting to force conversation, but don’t avoid them all night either.

    The CaRMS Interview Tour

    Initially, these are very exciting. By halfway through I found them a bit boring. Unsurprisingly, most hospitals and EDs look pretty alike and when you’ve seen one helicopter landing pad, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Still, it’s nice to see the facilities that you’d be working in, so its an obligatory part of each stop.

    What to wear:

    This time it’s pretty easy. If it’s before your interview, the same clothes that you wore to your interview are fine (generally with the addition of a warm coat – it’s January in Canada). If it’s after your interview, some students change into something more comfortable. That is fine, but lulu pants are probably pushing it.

    What not to do:

    Stay off of your cell phones! A quick glance every now and then is fine, but nothing says “I’m not interested in matching here” more than texting constantly. Like the social, you generally aren’t going to make or break your chances on the tour, but your interactions could bump you a few spots on the program’s rank list or drop you a whole lot if the residents don’t want to rank you.

    Lesser extremes of disinterest include not asking any questions or looking interested in anything. Even if it is the end of the tour and you have no desire to match at the program you’re interviewing with, at least act interested. Sometimes CaRMS doesn’t go like you expect and, even if you’ve got 10 interviews, slacking on the ones you’re less interested in might leave you unmatched if your “sure thing” doesn’t work out like you thought it would.

    What to do:

    Consider this a visit to somewhere you’re considering moving, because it is. Check out the facilities. Ask questions about both the program and the city. Ask where residents live and how they get to the hospitals. Ask how much housing costs and if they generally buy or rent. Ask yourself if you think you could be happy there. This may be the last time you see the place until you move there in June.

    The CaRMS Interview

    The interviews most often consist of two or three small panels that include a mix of residents, physicians, and PDs. The format didn’t vary a lot from site to site when I went through, but I know that there has been a lot of experimentation with other models in other specialties. The number of applicants being interviewed also affects their organization. For example, Toronto and Ottawa interview tons of students because they have relatively more spots than Dalhousie or Saskatchewan. As a result, there may be more than one set of interview rooms or everyone may get interviewed by the same people. Some schools are now implementing an MMI-style interview (McMaster) as well.

    I don’t know of a lot of publications about the EM interviews, but Dr. Bandiera (Toronto) did publish papers a few years back that describes the system that Toronto (and possibly McMaster) have used in the past.1,2 Read them for some insight into what the interviewers at those sites are looking at, but remember that it is a more formal interview than some of the other programs have.

    What to wear:

    Business-formal (ie suits and ties for the guys, business suits or blouse/skirts for the girls) seems to be the safe way to go. Once again, looking sharp is great, but you’re playing with fire if you get crazy. Yes, everyone will remember you with your baby-blue suit and bow-tie, but probably not for the reasons you’d like. I’m sure that there are people that can pull that kind of thing off, but I’m not one of them, and I don’t think this is time for you to experiment.

    What not to do:

    Unfortunately, you can’t really teach this stuff on a blog. Certainly, there are an infinite number of possible blunders that could drop you, for example:

    Interviewer: Tell us about a weakness.
    Applicant: I’m bad under pressure.
    Interviewer: Okay. Err… Yep. You definitely are.

    However, there’s not much anyone can do to help you if you say something like that. Generally, the interviewers are nice and want you to have a good experience – it’s hard to see it from your perspective, but at some point you’ll be ranking our programs, and we want the applicants to like us! Horrible interview stories don’t help.

    If you get thrown a bizarre question (e.g. If you were a fruit, what would you be and why?) take it in stride. Come up with anything in a good-natured way and you’ll be fine. That didn’t happen a lot on my tour, and I wasn’t truly sure what they were trying to assess with those kind of questions, but I did hear some stories.

    To allay any concerns, I don’t believe that there are medical expert content on any of the emergency medicine interviews.

    The CFMS has a great Excel sheet of previous interview questions – ask your school representatives about it! We were unable to post it here, unfortunately.

    What to do:

    Be prepared. Know the answers to the common questions like the ones I mentioned in my previous post. Have educated questions about the program (they generally allow you to ask at the end) – the residents on the social and tour are great people to get an idea of what would be good to ask about. Don’t be too nervous. Be passionate and present.

    One thing that I didn’t mention in my last post on preparation was how good of an idea it is to rehearse before your first few interviews. No, you don’t want to sound like a broken record (although you probably will by the end because you’ll have answered the same questions a ton of times!), but sometimes your theoretically solid answers to questions fall apart when you try to say them out loud for the first time. Additionally, an observer might be able to point out an aggravating habit that you have in an interview that you wouldn’t notice yourself (ie saying “like” every 3rd word) that you can work on before your interview. It might help to have a trusted mentor or someone that you don’t know at all play this role.


    That is all for part two of the trilogy! Check out the final episode on rank lists here. If you found this helpful, please support our blog. We have no way to accept cash, but are happy to be paid in referrals. E-mail it to your classmates, follow me on twitter @Brent_Thoma, sign up to get an e-mail each time we post (right column), follow our RSS feed (top right corner), and check back regularly.

    Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January 2013 on BoringEM. It was revised and republished on CanadiEM on January 14, 2016. It has since been updated by Kelly Lien & Brent Thoma and republished on January 3rd, 2017. For more CaRMS advice, check out the complete CaRMS Guide. The next post in the CaRMS Guide series is Post-game: The CaRMS Rank List


    Bandiera G, Regehr G. Evaluation of a structured application assessment instrument for assessing applications to Canadian postgraduate training programs in emergency medicine. Acad Emerg Med. 2003;10(6):594-598. [PubMed]
    Bandiera G, Regehr G. Reliability of a structured interview scoring instrument for a Canadian postgraduate emergency medicine training program. Acad Emerg Med. 2004;11(1):27-32. [PubMed]
Dr. Brent Thoma is a medical educator, blogging geek, and trauma/emergency physician who works at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine. He founded BoringEM and is the CEO of CanadiEM.