Breaking Down Barriers on the Path to Better Care

The experiences of two Schulich Medicine & Dentistry alumni have led to the Thakur/Jayaraman Family Bursary in Medicine, and a way to bring students from diverse backgrounds into a career in medicine.

Dr. Shiva Jayaraman, MD’02 and Dr. Varsha Thakur, MD’03
Dr. Shiva Jayaraman, MD’02 and Dr. Varsha Thakur, MD’03.

The dream of two alumni is now turning into reality for deserving medical students from different socioeconomic, racial and equity identifying backgrounds.

During their time at Schulich Medicine, Dr. Varsha Thakur, MD’03, and Dr. Shiva Jayaraman, MD’02, experienced first-hand how tuition deregulation in Ontario changed the makeup of their classes. Then later in their careers, they saw the obstacles faced by different racial communities brought on by COVID-19 – distrust, misinformation, discrepancies in health care and more.

Something had to be done.

Their concern led to the creation of the Thakur/Jayaraman Family Bursary in Medicine, a much-needed financial lifeline for medical students from diverse backgrounds facing the economic, racial and equity-related challenges of a career in medicine.

Both from south Asian backgrounds and as second-generation Canadians, they knew the challenges facing immigrants in Canada. Thakur’s father first landed in Montreal, but left for Toronto with the rise of the Parti Quebecois in Quebec and its unfriendly immigrant policies. She studied at the University of Toronto before coming to Schulich Medicine. Jayaraman’s family settled in Ottawa where he did his undergrad at the University of Ottawa.

Neither faced overt racism, but “I was very aware that I was very different from other people,” Jayaraman said. “We both saw medicine as a way of applying what we were good at and helping people along the way, too.”

While their time at Schulich Medicine was personally transformational – they met, married, started a family and both did their residencies at the School – it also allowed them to meet and learn from a diverse group of classmates.

Photo of Dr. Varsha Thakur
“The best way to ensure there is a diversity of thought in care providers is to ensure there is a diversity of thought in students coming into the program.”

—Dr. Varsha Thakur

“Even though our classes got smaller compared to undergrad, our worlds got bigger,” said Jayaraman, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, and associate program director of its General Surgery residency program. “There were people from all across Canada – representing different religions, rural areas, economic differences and sexual orientations – I had never interacted with people like this on such a scale.”

Thakur said this unique classroom experience provided important context for future physicians into the nuances of care required in different communities and socioeconomic backgrounds.

And the idea was born.

“The best way to ensure there is a diversity of thought in care providers is to ensure there is a diversity of thought in students coming into the program,” said Thakur, a paediatric and fetal cardiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children and Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. She is also the head of the EDI committee for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Mount Sinai. “This should allow for better patient care and be more reflective of the patients we are taking care of.”

Now they want to ensure this experience is shared with all students through their Family Bursary and hope others will become part of this initiative to ensure broader experiences in the education of future medical students.

The next step in their vision is to provide a full-year’s tuition for a student and see the endowment grow so that one deserving student in every year is having their medical school tuition fully paid.

“That’s the dream,” they echoed.

  If you want to support initiatives like this to help equity-deserving students at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, contact