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How U of T medical students have worked to improve equity in health care

Symposium challenges “non-inclusive narratives” in medicine
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SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

How can health care education, research, and clinical services be more equitable and welcoming to professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds? The Equity in Health Research, Education and Services Learner-Led Symposium on March 11 sought to answer these questions.

The Office of Inclusion and Diversity at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine hosted the symposium in a video conference format.

The motivation for the conference

The symposium was the brainchild of U of T medical students Chantal Phillips, Imaan Javeed, and Stevan Cho. Shannon Giannitsopoulou, Program Coordinator at the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, worked alongside members of the Learner Equity Action & Discussion Committee Symposium Working Group and organized the symposium.

Phillips, Javeed, and Cho had participated in equity, inclusion, and diversity research, but found it difficult to learn more about their colleagues’ work in equity.

“Recognizing the missed chance for collaboration and support, we recognized the need to start an event… where learners can share their works,” wrote Cho to The Varsity.

According to Phillips, the symposium aimed to showcase the equity work of medical students, as well as provide them with an opportunity to get to know each other. Additionally, the symposium offered an opportunity to amplify the voices of the students who were concerned about equity, noted Giannitsopoulou.

“It’s really important to me that we are able to change non-inclusive narratives that are so prevalent in not only Medicine but many other fields,” reflected Javeed, “such that everyone is able to picture themselves as being successful and welcome in Medicine.”

Medical professionals should be able to do this “without changing anything about who they are, their core values and principles, or being asked to put aside their rich life history and personal background just to blend in,” Javeed continued.

Stop moving the target: redefining the meaning of equity

The keynote speaker for the night was LLana James, a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Medicine’s Rehabilitation Sciences Institute. Her work focuses on the relationships between artificial intelligence, public health, and medicine.

What equity should be, according to James, is “moving the ball down the court,” as she noted in the symposium.

However, James described that it is difficult to achieve equity when the target is always moving. She explained this as “a tactic of colonization.”

“[People in power] change the definition, change the rules, change the finish line,” she said. “Because as long as it’s changing, you can’t actually cross it.”

“[Equity] should be about confronting the legal frameworks; it should be about moving the legal frameworks to where they belong,” she continued. “Where we’re looking and working within Indigenous constitutional frameworks” — in other words, respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Changing the medical school curriculum

Nikisha Khare, a second-year medical student, and Alexandra Florescu and Helena Kita, both second-year MD-PhD students, delivered a presentation titled “Advocating for pre-clerkship medical school curriculum change through an anti-oppressive approach.”

Khare, Florescu, and Kita developed a report with three key recommendations: to develop a curriculum that draws from critical social perspectives; to critically examine how historical events have informed social inequities; and to diversify patient panels.

Patient panels are often composed of white people from a high socioeconomic status. Medical experts tend to view patients in this demographic as “good patients” with “good relationships with their physicians,” according to their presentation.

They noted that the narrow scope can reinforce bias, and represents a missed opportunity for medical students to be more empathetic toward patients who experience less privilege in the medical system.

Evaluating the diversity mentorship program

Javeed looked into the Diversity Mentorship Program, which is facilitated through the Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity.

The Diversity Mentorship Program matches medical students from marginalized groups with mentors who “are able to support and assist them in their education and professional growth and development,” according to their website.

The program’s objectives are to “empower excellence,” “[strengthen the] community,” and “[foster] identity development,” according to their presentation.

The program was evaluated through surveys and focus groups. They found that the program was successful, as “a large proportion of [participants] felt that they had a productive relationship,” Javeed continued. “Mentees felt that it was a rewarding addition to their medical education, and mentors found it both personally and professionally rewarding.”

Furthermore, when pairings had more than three meetings, there was a “greater achievement of the results.”