A commitment to diversity: How the Undergraduate Medical Education program has embraced new ways to live our School's values

Ask a group of people to define diversity and you will likely receive as many definitions as the number of people asked.

As one of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s values, diversity is a topic of many conversations amongst leaders, faculty and students.

“There are many definitions for diversity,” said Dr. Terri Paul, associate dean, Learner Equity & Wellness. “Generally most people think it refers to race or gender. While it does, the School’s current definition is much broader and also incorporates socioeconomic background, educational background and training, and age.”

Dr. Paul believes that the Undergraduate Medical Education (UME) program embraces the broader definition of diversity and lives it daily through its admissions policies, awards program, the curriculum and extracurricular activities offered through student governance.

“We are welcoming to anyone coming into our medical school class,” she said. Applicants to the UME program are no longer required to have a science undergraduate degree, which creates a more dynamic class. Meanwhile, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry entrance scholarships, which are offered based on financial need, form the foundation of one of the most generous awards and bursary programs for medical students across the country.

Yousif Atwan, Medicine Class of 2017 agrees with Dr. Paul. “The UME program promotes diversity on a variety of levels,” he said. “Our classmates vary in their family home, age, scholastic training, school of graduation, and extra-curricular skill sets, while our educators span a wide range of academic and professional backgrounds. This diversity provides us with an incredible learning atmosphere, encouraging us to analyze and appreciate medicine from different numerous perspectives.”

Students are also encouraged to embrace diversity through the UME curriculum. There are components to courses in Patient Centred Clinical Methods, PCCIA modules in systems-based courses and prompts in Professional Portfolio that offer opportunity for discussion and practise.

“In several of our courses, such as Population Health, Healthcare Systems and Ethics, we have engaging discussions or standardized patient interactions around the topic of cultural competence,” said Han Yan, Medicine Class of 2017. “By practising and honing our skills surrounding sensitivity, we can become better doctors.”

UME students also have the opportunity to engage in a number of local and regional extracurricular activities that allow them to further explore diversity.

The Newcomer’s Health Program is just one opportunity for student involvement. Through their work on the program, students are able to better understand health concerns that arise in other countries. They also understand the links between the social determinants of health and patient care.

While Dr. Paul believes the School is doing a good job at living the value of diversity, but she feels there is always more that can be done.

She supports the School creating a specific definition for diversity. To achieve this, a working group led by faculty from the basic and clinical sciences departments has been created. In their work, the committee will be reaching out to students, the Office of Global Health and community partners to solicit feedback as they refine and enact the definition.

She would also like to see new efforts being made on filling the three spaces for aboriginal students in the UME program annually.

Dr. Paul also believes the School needs to consider how it can inspire and support those individuals who would not normally think about applying to medical school due to cultural or fiscal restraints. She also thinks we need to continue the conversation on the rising costs of education and how we can provide financial support for those students who have identified need.

“The conversation about diversity is an important one,” said Dr. Paul.

“Our students need to have experiences and be comfortable in treating patients from different cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, who have different perceptions about the role of medicine and different goals for their health and life,” said Dr. Paul. “It is important we provide our students with a wide range of opportunities in their learning so they are well prepared when they begin their medical careers.”

Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is not alone in its conversation around diversity. The Equity Diversity and Gender group for the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) meets regularly to address the questions that are surrounding the issues of diversity, gender and equity across the country.