U of A program helps low income students apply to medical school

Two University of Alberta (U of A) students have started a program to help Indigenous and low-income youth prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and to assist in the overall process of applying to medical school.

Alexander Wong and Emily Fong, second-year students at the U of A’s medical program, created the program “MD Admission Initiative for Diversity and Equality” (MD AIDE).

According to the U of A website, the program “will make it easier for post-secondary students from low-income and Indigenous backgrounds to prepare for the infamously difficult [MCAT].”

“Having noticed a lack of diversity in our medical school class, we saw an opportunity to create an initiative to reduce barriers,” Wong said in an email.

Prep101, a MCAT prep course that takes place at the U of A, costs $2,495, according to their website. In contrast, the MD AIDE program will be offered free of charge.

The MD AIDE is composed of two components: preparation for the MCAT and a mentorship program, according to Wong.

He said the MCAT preparation course will run from May to July 2018, and will be taught by current medical students who have recently written the exam which will allow them to provide program participants with test-taking strategies. 

“The mentorship program will pair students with physicians or medical students with similar backgrounds who can provide an idea of what a career in medicine entails,” Wong said.

According to him, the program received funding support from the Department of Medicine’s Undergraduate Medical Education program at the U of A, as well as funding from various partnerships with community organizations.

Wong said that the funding would be used to purchase practice questions and tests for the participants and that the medical students who are acting as instructors for the MCAT course will receive “a stipend in the summer for the intensive planning, curriculum development and teaching work they do.”

The pair said they are both very passionate about social justice and diversity issues.

After reading an article in the Toronto Star about how the University of Toronto (U of T) was offering free MCAT preparation to underrepresented students, Fong and Wong wanted to start a similar initiative at U of A.

Similarly in 2017, the U of T’s Black Medical Students Association launched a program called Community of Support, which helps Black students apply to medical school—a similar program is also in place for Indigenous students.

Wong said that the program is open to all students of all backgrounds, but that it is targeted towards lower-income and Indigenous students, and that they hope to recruit 30 students initially. Depending on funding, the number may increase.

When asked why he believes that diversity in medicine is important, he said “the best physician population is one [that] looks like the Canadian population, especially considering that medical students are more likely to return to practice in their communities of origin.”

“Indigenous physicians are also better equipped to provide culturally safe care to Indigenous patients,” Wong said.  

He said that he and Fong are excited to see the initiative take off, and they hope that it will “continue to run in future years to provide support for students.”

Photo by Meagan Casalino