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Photo by Caz Zyvatkauskas
Terrence Donnelly with graduating medical students.

A Bold Prescription

Support for medical students is a key plank of the Faculty of Medicine’s campaign

It’s a classic case of students helping students.

Except that instead of swapping study strategies or sharing lecture notes, graduating medical students at the University of Toronto are helping their fellow undergrads by throwing serious financial muscle into bursaries and scholarships.

Each year, the graduating students volunteer to produce Toronto Notes – a study guide sold around the world to help students prepare for medical licensing exams. To date, the group has donated $2 million in proceeds from the successful guide towards financial support for their peers in the MD program

On September 13, as the Faculty of Medicine launched a historic, $500-million fundraising campaign at the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, the Toronto Notes effort was lauded as a prime example of philanthropy’s direct impact on students. “We train health care leaders – people whose passion, dedication and research will literally shape the future of health care,” said Dean Catharine Whiteside before the packed launch event, which drew hundreds of supporters. “Gifts such as this enable our bright young scholars to focus on the learning, research and practical knowledge that help them develop as innovators and leaders.”

The Toronto Notes donation – accumulated over the 29 years the guide has been published – is believed to be among the largest-ever student-led gifts to a Canadian university; it provides financial support for dozens of MD students each year. This support is critical, Whiteside says, since the average debt load for medical students upon graduation is $84,000.

The faculty’s fundraising campaign aims to generate $100 million for student support and programs. “In Ontario alone, we train more than half of all practising specialists and one-third of all family physicians,” says Whiteside. “Our students are the lifeblood of the country’s health-care system, and their impact is international as well, so supporting them is critical.”

Ahmed Taher, a third-year MD student who trained as a paramedic while studying and serving as president of the Medical Society, said bursaries enabled him to “have a well-rounded learning experience without worrying about overwhelming debt.”

Toronto Notes co-production manager Elsa Clouatre said the group’s goal is to continue supporting students such as Taher with proceeds from the text. The guide – which started as a compilation of notes written by and shared among U of T medical students – is now produced with faculty experts.

Alongside student support, Medicine’s campaign aims to raise funds to attract and retain world-leading professors and invest in infrastructure to drive research and health innovation in four areas: human development, global health, neuroscience and brain health, and complex diseases. For more information or to support the Faculty of Medicine’s campaign, please visit

Watch the Faculty of Medicine’s campaign video:

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