Students offer support, mentorship to medical and dental school applicants

Dental student mentors pose for a group photoThis year, ACCESS Inc. expanded to include students applying to the School's Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) program. Pictured are dental student mentors who provide support and mentorship to DDS applicants. (supplied photo)

By Emily Leighton 

As a five-time applicant to medical school, Jayneel Limbachia understands how challenging the path to medicine can be – especially for students facing financial or socio-cultural barriers.

But he considers himself privileged to have had mentors and a supportive community to guide him along the journey.

“I had a lot of people on my side to mentor me during the application process, and I realized that a lot of students don’t have that type of support or access,” said Limbachia, now a third-year medical student at Schulich Medicine. “It motivated me to make the admissions process more equitable for under-represented students.”

In 2021, Limbachia and several classmates launched a student-led mentorship initiative for applicants to the School’s Doctor of Medicine (MD) program. The group officially registered as a non-profit organization in August called ACCESS Inc (Admissions Counselling and Coaching for Equitable Students Success).

Applying to medical school is an involved, months-long process – including GPA and MCAT scores, personal statements and references, as well as structured, panel interviews for top-ranked applicants.

Compiled photos of student mentors with ACCESS Inc.Medical and dental student leaders working with ACCESS Inc. (supplied graphic)

ACCESS Inc. offers application and interview support free of charge to under-represented students applying to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry – specifically those who belong to racialized or LGBTQ+ communities, are facing socio-economic challenges and/or live with a disability or medical condition.

Applicants apply to ACCESS Inc. and are matched with student mentors who provide support throughout the entire application process, from reviewing essays and personal statements to interview coaching and preparation. The organization also provides standardized training for student mentors to ensure applicants receive a professional and consistent experience.

“Many of the student mentors involved in this initiative faced obstacles that made the path to medicine challenging,” said Limbachia, co-founder and president of ACCESS Inc. “For us, it just made sense to help those in similar positions.” 

In its first year, the team recruited 70 medical student mentors to provide one-on-one support to 70 applicants. For the 2022-2023 application cycle, that number climbed to 120 – with 64 per cent of ACCESS Inc. participants receiving an offer of admission to the School’s MD program, based on a voluntary survey.

This year, ACCESS Inc. expanded to include students applying to the School’s Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) program.

“We’re excited to be working with our medical school colleagues to offer this important service,” said Daniel Han, a second-year dental student and leader for ACCESS Inc.’s DDS programming “We’re filling a gap for bright, deserving students who don’t have access to these resources or professional networks on their own.”

For this pilot year, 14 DDS applicants were matched with dental student mentors, focusing on support for written components of the application. The mentors will also provide interview coaching and preparation in the new year.

“Similar to medicine, dentistry involves serving diverse populations. We need a variety of professionals with unique backgrounds to best serve patients and meet community needs,” said Han. “We hope to create a supportive community of mentors to guide under-represented students applying to dentistry and make the admissions process more equitable.”

Student executives with ACCESS Inc. work closely with the School’s Admissions Office to ensure their programming aligns with official policies and timelines.

“Through the passionate efforts of the student volunteers involved with ACCESS Inc., applicants have support from medical and dental students, many of whom have similar lived experiences,” said Dr. George Kim, associate dean, Admissions. “This is real, substantive action taking place to help students realize they can achieve their dreams. Supporting initiatives like ACCESS Inc. is a core part of what we’re doing in Admissions.” 

The School has made significant changes to the medical school admissions process in the past several years, focusing on mitigating barriers for under-represented populations.

“At Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, we’re committed to contributing to a more diverse and representative health-care work force,” said Kim.

Looking to the future, Limbachia and his peers are hoping to expand ACCESS Inc. to other medical and dental schools across the province and country. 

“Our goal is to keep this programming free of charge and accessible to those who need it,” he said. “For me, there’s always more that can be done regardless of the results we achieve, but it’s rewarding to receive the positive feedback from mentees and watch their success; it makes this work worthwhile and pushes us to keep going.”