Enabling the changemakers of tomorrow

A new award increases equitable access to MD+ for all students.

During the last week of August 2021, Dr. Shannon Venance noticed an influx of emails.

More often than not “MD+” was the subject line.

MD+ is an exciting new education innovation for Schulich Medicine students. Unique in Canada, it offers students access to four different pathways to pursue an advanced degree or diploma while completing their medical degrees. Students can explore their interests in the basic sciences, the history of medicine, public health, global health management, space studies, music performance, business and more.

With MD+, students are in the driver’s seat to personalize parts of their learning journey and experience interdisciplinary and experiential learning beyond the typical medical school experience.

“MD+ offers students the opportunity to really tailor the knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes they will bring to the next stage of their training,” said Venance, Vice Dean, Undergraduate Medical Education. “By offering students the opportunity to expand their knowledge set, we are setting them up for success in residency and practice and, ideally, we are enabling the changemakers of tomorrow.”

For Venance, making MD+ equitable to any interested student was a priority. Central to that was the creation of a financial award, which students could apply for and ultimately use to offset some of the costs of an additional year or program of study.

It’s why the Dean’s MD+ Graduate Award was created. And beginning in the spring of 2022, a minimum $10,000 award will be offered to eligible Doctor of Medicine program students who have been accepted to a master’s program through the MD+ track.

Behind each student and award recipient is a donor, who generously supported the Schulich Excellence Fund – which provided a $100,000 base of funding to create the new Award.

Shaily Brahmbhatt is one of the School’s first MD+ students. She took a leave of absence for one year to pursue her Master of Public Health degree.

I thought MD+ was an amazing idea when I first learned about it,” she said. “Although we can’t be an expert in everything, I believe that it allows students to expand their worldview and expertise, allowing us to become more well-rounded leaders in the long run.”

Brahmbhatt says she knew she was risking financial stability by taking on another program in the midst of her medical school studies – but she felt it was worth it.

“In the moment of hesitation before submitting my MD+ application, I thought of my sister, nieces and the many other young girls like me who needed to believe that the cost of their dreams was worth it,” she said.

Jelena Poleksic confirmed her interest in pursuing a graduate degree through MD+ shortly after Brahmbhatt.

With an expanding interest in the history of medicine, Poleksic has spent the past few years exploring and publishing research on compassion within health care settings, with a focus on mental health.

This fall she travelled to London, England to earn her master’s in the History and Philosophy of Science at University College London (UCL).

Brahmbhatt and Poleksic were fortunate to each receive a scholarship to support their graduate studies; and believe it enabled the pursuit of their goals. They’re grateful to the donors who believe in the dreams of students.

“I was unsure whether pursuing courses in history and philosophy while studying medicine would be possible, but the scholarship I received helped me achieve my dream of having a truly interdisciplinary medical education,” said Poleksic.

As Venance meets with the next prospective cohort of MD+ students, she continues to be amazed – at their wisdom, dedication and energy to expand their knowledge and grow their skills. She’s grateful that the Dean’s MD+ Graduate Award will ease the financial burden for students and make the opportunity more accessible for all students.

And she’s appreciative of the many donors who have placed medical education as a top giving priority. 

“Thank you. You can’t even come close to imagining how valuable your giving is,” said Venance.

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