Nicole Mfoafo-M’Carthy, a second-year medical student at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, has been named a Rhodes Scholar. Mfoafo-M’Carthy is one of 11 Canadians that have been selected to receive the prestigious international scholarship.

Established in 1902, the Rhodes Scholarship is one of the world’s most prestigious scholarship programs. It aims to recognize young leaders globally and support them in making an impact through their studies. The recipient receives a scholarship to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford.

Mfoafo-M’Carthy started exploring health care when she was studying health sciences as an undergraduate at the University of Calgary, and then continued her journey at U of T as a medical student. In an interview with The Varsity, she said that the clinical experience at hospitals during the pandemic made her realize the significance of policy in patients’ experiences with the health care system and their overall well-being.

“As a physician who is invested in that kind of holistic notion of health, I do want exposure and understanding of that policy side and that public health side,” said Mfoafo-M’Carthy. “Therefore, I can also have a role in supporting my patients outside the health care system by promoting healthy public health policy.” 

Mfoafo-M’Carthy said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted flaws that have long existed in the current health care system, especially the insufficiency of its support for marginalized communities. She noted that the importance of addressing the issues and tailoring more resilient health care policies could no longer be ignored.

“Historically, we’ve been able to ignore them because of different conditions,” she said. “With a pandemic, it was a situation where you couldn’t really overlook it any longer.”

Mfoafo-M’Carthy is very excited about studying abroad and the opportunity to make a global connection with fellow Rhodes Scholars from around the world. “I think it’s a really good opportunity to be connected to such an amazing cohort and network of Rhodes Scholars, but also to be in a space where you can explore different sides of yourself and how you have come to be a fuller person,” she said.

That global perspective for Mfoafo-M’Carthy also means expanding her scope of thinking when it comes to her research pursuit. She said that there are challenges in the health care field, like that of serving an aging population, which are not unique to Canada and also happen in many other countries. Her international experience can offer more diverse solutions and viewpoints that are currently not in her toolbox in Canada.

“I think the global perspective is really important because it kind of allows you the opportunity to expand your imagination,” said Mfoafo-M’Carthy. “And you can consider policies that exist outside of the current Canadian scope, and look at what people are doing in different places, and how you might want to incorporate that in your situation back home.”

When asked about her advice to students who are currently still navigating their interests and experiencing confusion about their direction, Mfoafo-M’Carthy said it is a good idea to get exposure to many different areas of study and explore different ideas to find a community for yourself.

“I think sometimes we approach these large questions as if [finding answers] is a very linear process, but allow yourself the opportunity to interact with things that you aren’t really sure about and give yourself room to explore different ideas,” she said.