The faces of everyone who has ever graduated from U of T’s Faculty of Medicine line two long halls in the Medical Sciences Building. The images of each graduating class, dating back to 1870, tell a story of the medical profession – first of pale men with high collars and strange hairdos, then of the occasional pale woman. But even as the women begin to claim half of the frame and the pictures feature people from a variety of cultures, there are still notable absences.
“Aboriginal students and students from an African background are still very under-represented in medicine, and in health care generally,” says Diana Alli, co-founder of the Faculty of Medicine’s Summer Mentorship Program in the Health Sciences. Several years ago, Alli decided she wanted to change this situation – so that the photos 10, 20 and 30 years from now tell a different story.
The Summer Mentorship Program is designed to introduce high school students from these under-represented groups to the health field – and to post-secondary education generally. The program runs for four weeks each summer, offering participants close-up views of the operating room, the dental lab and other health-care settings, as well as the opportunity to shadow health professionals. Students apply through their high schools.
Dr. Gary Miller, one of the program’s 400 graduates, has just finished his specialist training in ophthalmology. He’s also a former mentor, and says he has witnessed firsthand the life-changing impact the program can have on youth. “Some [students] say it’s the first time they believed they could really amount to anything or succeed academically,” he says.
This summer, 50 young people participated in the program, including Maryan Issa and Malik Paris, both 16. After their first week, the two were deeply enthusiastic about what they were learning. “This mentorship rocks,” says Paris, who is looking to combine his interests in medicine and engineering. The program has helped Issa clarify her career goals, too; she wishes more students could participate in the program.
Alli can provide a stack of moving testimonials and a slew of success stories – students who began the mentorship not considering university but who have gone on to become doctors, lawyers and professors. Ninety-eight per cent of students from the program have gone on to post-secondary education. More than 30 per cent have gone into health care, and more than 10 per cent have gone to med school. It goes to show what a difference a month can make.