Opening doors to the health sciences

Live 2011

By Marlene Busko

Hundreds of high school students from in and around Montreal descended on McGill campus recently, participating in a wide range of health sciences activities. Experience Careers in Health and Regional Initiative are two events organized by McGill medical students and supported by the Office of Admissions, Equity and Diversity in the Faculty of Medicine. The events are also part of the office’s Towards Health program linking McGill University and targeting teens, from rural, aboriginal and underprivileged areas.

Visiting students get to practice CPR in the Arnold and Blema Steinberg Simulation Centre. Photo: Larry Cheung

“We’re truly hoping to really turn some kids on to careers in health,” says Saleem Razack, MD, Assistant Dean of Admissions, Equity, and Diversity for McGill’s Faculty of Medicine, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics and physician at the MUHC’s Montreal Children’s Hospital.

The student-led Experience Careers in Health and Regional Initiative projects began three years ago and are part of the Community Outreach Projects (COP) of the McGill Medical Students’ Society. Through COP, which was started in 2003, McGill medical students participate in such activities as teaching elementary school students about health, and providing high school students with after-school study help.

“The Regional Initiative is part of COP’s efforts to establish better social equity and diversity among future graduating classes,” explains Larry Cheung, this year’s Regional Initiative team leader. Organizing team members included Cheung and Med-1 students Simon Sun, Sophie Villeneuve and Aaron Winter. The Experience Careers in Health event was led by Jeffrey How (Med-1) and Marina Ibrahim (Med-2). Both endeavours relied on many dedicated student volunteers who took time away from their studies to develop and give interactive workshops, and to make sure the events ran smoothly.

Students in the Arnold and Blema Steinberg Simulation Centre learned about measuring blood pressure. Photo: Marlene Busko

The Regional Initiative event, which hosted 27 English-speaking and 44 French-speaking Aboriginal and rural students, focuses on promoting a career in medicine to students from rural and aboriginal communities. These grade 9 to 11 students were able to spend time in two state-of-the-art locations – the anatomy lab and the Arnold and Blema Steinberg Simulation Centre.

During the Careers in Health event, over one hundred students from eight English high schools in the city rotated through workshops across campus. McGill student volunteers in physical therapy, occupational therapy, medicine, dentistry and nursing supervised carefully planned activities to give participants memorable, hands-on experiences. The same event was held the following day for students from French high schools across Montreal.

Andrew Biteen, Equity and Diversity Project Manager at the Faculty, explains that the Equity and Diversity portfolio was added last September to remove barriers for well qualified students who otherwise would not apply for admission into medicine and other areas of the health sciences. According to Biteen, the office aims “to give our students an opportunity to engage with communities who they will be serving when they are healthcare professionals, and also to make connections in these communities and find ways to support students who would be interested in health careers.”

“If you get one student inspired who didn’t really feel McGill was accessible to them, and they apply and they get in and they get through, the event is a success,” says Lauren Hamlin-Douglas, (Med-3), team leader at last year’s Regional Initiative.

In his parting message to the Experience Careers in Health participants Dr. Razack said: “Think about a career in health. Remember what a wonderful privilege it is to help people with their health problems through science. We hope you will be back.”

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