Addressing the barriers in medical school admissions

A new partnership comes to life, enriching support for under-represented students in medicine.

Increasing the racial diversity of health care professionals in Canada will greatly enhance the country’s health care system. It was with this goal in mind that the Community of Support (COS) was created.

Its mission is to alleviate the barriers that Black, Filipino and Indigenous students, as well as those who are socio-economically disadvantaged, identify as having a disability or are underrepresented, face throughout the preparation, application process and admissions for medical school.

Each student comes to COS with their own goals and lived experiences and they choose from a range of options that best meets their needs, including admission information, leadership, volunteer and research opportunities that are aligned with the CanMEDs competencies, and application-related support including a free MCAT course, CASPer prep course, as well as interview preparation.

Founded at the University of Toronto, COS has expanded into a collaborative effort across the country. And today, the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry is a proud partner of this critical initiative.

It’s one way the School is improving student access for under-represented and equity-deserving groups, a goal in its new five-year Strategic Plan.

Dr. Gary Tithecott says that conversations to develop the partnership began in 2018 with a clear goal.

“We wanted to partner with an existing resource that was having an impact on alleviating barriers for students rather than creating a separate competing infrastructure,” said Tithecott, who currently serves as the Acting Associate Dean, Admissions.

With that intention – and thanks to the advocacy and grass roots efforts of Adrean Angles, MPH’15, a current medical student, as well as Dr. Mobolaji Adeolu, MD’21, and Shauna Peng, Medicine Class of 2023 – the relationship with COS was solidified and a partnership established.

The Schulich Excellence Fund has enabled the partnership to come to life. And today, the School has a dedicated outreach staff person who serves as a liaison between the School and COS, and it provides funding for the COS’s MCAT Student Support program.

Schulich Medicine student Gelila Alemayheu says she benefited from the MCAT Student Support program as she planned her application to medical school. The first-year student also received crucial insight into the admissions interview process, as well as encouragement and motivation when she was paired with a student mentor. 

Her involvement with COS extended further through a research project focused on interventions to increase medical school representation across Canada and the U.S.

“COS has been monumental in helping me believe that I could do it,” said Alemayheu. “Being surrounded by Black students who were pursuing the same thing as me or who were already there – well it personified my own dream.”

Alemayheu’s classmate, Mohnish Rao, admits he struggled with his application to medical school. His searches for assistance only led to expensive options and consultants. That was until he came across COS.

He immediately signed up for the free seminars. And when it came time for interviews, COS was there for him again – offering mentorship, interview tips and counsel.

“Their insight was invaluable and has helped me to get to where I am today,” said Rao. “The COS is definitely one of the reasons that I was accepted into medical school.”

As Rao and Alemayheu settle into their first-year medical studies, they’ve made a commitment to COS to give back. Each is volunteering with COS and looks forward to doing more.

“I have signed up to be a mentor with COS and I am supporting a few Black students,” said Alemayheu. “I don’t know where I would have been without COS, and I want to provide support to future students as well.”

Since its founding in 2015, 352 students who have benefited from the longitudinal support that COS offers have enrolled in medical school.

Now, the goal of COS is to continue to reduce barriers for more students so they can access the supports they need to pursue their medical degrees.

"Thanks to COS, we can graduate physicians that our province and country needs and provide the best health care possible,” said Tithecott.

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