For more than 15 years James Andrew has been the Indigenous student initiatives manager leading a campaign to increase the number of Indigenous medical doctors in the UBC (and by extension UVic) faculty of medicine.
The Island Medical Program delivers UBC’s medical doctor program in collaboration with the University of Victoria and Island Health, and in late July held its 15th annual pre-admissions workshop. The workshop is a key component in the ongoing campaign to recruit and support Indigenous students who want to become doctors.
“We had a 2020 vision of graduating 50 aboriginal doctors and were able to meet that goal in 2015, with 54, and right now as of May 2018 we reached 80, so our numbers are going up,” Andrew said. “We will have 109 by 2020.”
However, less than one per cent (roughly 800 to 900) of Canada’s doctors are Indigenous, yet four per cent (roughly 1.4 million) of Canada’s population is Indigenous. And while the numbers have increased, they’re far from reaching the “critical mass,” said Andrew, who hails from the Mount Currie band of the Lil’wat Nation (near Whistler).
About a dozen young Indigenous adults spent three days in workshops and lectures at the Royal Jubilee Hospital learning how to prepare their medical school applications, how to prepare for the medical college admissions test, and giving them a sneak peak of the medical school curriculum, with a case-based learning session that is part of the curriculum, Andrew said.
The workshop is open to university students and also holds spots for two or three keen high schoolers. Each year the workshop rotates through the program’s four sites of Kelowna, Prince George, Vancouver and Victoria.
Barriers include a lack of awareness among Indigenous students that medical school spots are open to them. The Indigenous student initiatives program provides additional support to the students, mentorship for students who need it, and also allows for time off if needed.
“The location can be a barrier, students have to leave their community which can be a remote or rural community, especially the northern students, coming to a big city, even Kelowna, Prince George can be daunting,” Andrew said. “That includes students from Northwest Territories.”
The medical college admissions test is also a challenge, it’s only offered in big cities, and students have to travel and cover their accommodations.