Black medical students: New association fills gap

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Serwadda, who was born to Ugandan immigrants in South Africa, earned a BEng and then a BSc in Biochemistry before entering the MDCM program, where he founded the McGill Black Medical Students' Association. (Photo: Nicolas Morin)

Serwadda, who was born to Ugandan immigrants in South Africa, earned a BEng and then a BSc in Biochemistry before entering the MDCM program, where he founded the McGill Black Medical Students’ Association. (Photo: Nicolas Morin)

By Ian McGillis

Founded in September 2015, the McGill Black Medical Students’ Association (MBMSA) was an idea whose time had clearly come. Membership, as of February 2016, stands at 23, with members’ backgrounds ranging from Quebec and Ontario to Nigeria, Senegal, Rwanda, Benin, Haiti and Trinidad.

Ivan Serwadda, founder and president of the association, is the son of Ugandan immigrants. He grew up in South Africa, obtaining a BEng in Electrical and Computer Engineering before following his parents to Saskatchewan, where he completed a BSc in Biochemistry. On entering the MDCM program at McGill in 2014, he became aware of a disparity between black representation in the Canadian population and in the Faculty of Medicine. He also sensed a lack of cohesion in the local black community. “Talking to black students, something that came up was the lack of positive black role models around us, and how it’s our duty to be mentors for black people younger than us.”

The MBMSA mission statement cites four tenets: social interaction, networking, outreach and advocacy. The four goals, while distinct, overlap in various ways. At regular potluck events, members mingle with people from other campus groups and from the city at large. They also forge connections with black alumni around the world, encourage the creation of scholarships, and establish buddy programs and shadowing opportunities. Serwadda is especially proud of their efforts in inner-city schools, including a Children’s Day event organized in conjunction with the Black Students’ Network of McGill.

“We gave presentations on how to get into medical school, and gave young kids the opportunity to play hands-on with some of the equipment we have.”

The advocacy branch of the association’s activities focuses on health and social issues affecting the African and Afro-Caribbean communities. One of the most notable events was a January 2015 panel discussion on mental health, attended by 200 individuals. “Black people are often misunderstood in the media, and subject to micro-aggressions in society, so it was great that people felt able to stand up and speak about their issues from a personal perspective,” Serwadda says. “It was a real confirmation for me that the association is doing something meaningful and appreciated.”

 

 

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