Medical student equity program at U of A expanding to reach more underrepresented communities

A student-led program at the University of Alberta is expanding eligibility to reach more communities that are underrepresented in the medical field.

Program previously focused on Indigenous and low-income applicants

The MD AIDE leadership team [2019-2020 team pictured here] is compiled of medical students at University of Alberta. (Supplied by Prachi Shah)

A student-led medical program at the University of Alberta is expanding eligibility to reach more communities that are underrepresented in the medical field.

MD Admissions Initiative for Diversity and Equity (MD AIDE) started in January 2018 to help break down barriers for prospective medical students. It assists with mentoring, tutoring and interview preparation for the medical college admission test, or MCAT.

Financial barriers can be huge as an MCAT prep course can cost close to $2,000, and the test itself costs more than $400.

MD AIDE offers a free three-month prep course taught by current medical students.

When the program started it focused on applicants from Indigenous or lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

But it's expanded this year and is focusing on a larger range of prospective students who are underrepresented in medical school. It's now open to people of colour, students living with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ students, along with people living in rural areas.

"Given current events around the world, that was one of the biggest factors in helping us to make our case for expanding our target demographic this year and just kind of broadening it to say that we're here for anybody who falls into that underrepresented category," said Prachi Shah, MD AIDE co-lead and second-year medical student.

By going virtual during the pandemic, the program has been able to reach students outside the city and save on transportation costs. 

Funding of the program has increased — from the University and other groups — and the students involved say it's an example of efforts to address systemic inequities in academia. 

"It's a reflection of the faculty as well, showing that the U of A faculty of medicine and dentistry is committed to social accountability and that we recognize that inequity is different from inequality and that we're actively trying to address that," said Sherry Mahmood, a member of the MD AIDE outreach team, and second-year medical student.

In past years, the program has received between 50 and 60 applications per year, but this year they have been almost 80 applications. Sunday is the last day to apply for the program. 

"Last year, I think the bulk of our applications actually came within the last two or three days. So I'm most confident we're going to hit over 100 this year, which I think is incredibly exciting for MD AIDE as a whole," said Ojas Srivastava, MD AIDE co-lead and second-year med student.

'Helped get rid of that barrier'

When the program started in 2018, it was exactly what Auriele Volk was looking for after finishing an undergrad a few years prior.

"I was struggling with the MCAT and writing it and having the time and resources to do so at that point," she said.

Auriele Volk participated in the MD AIDE program in 2018, and is now in her first year of medical school at the university of Alberta. (Google Meet screen shot)

She said the financial barrier was a significant concern. 

"How am I going to pay for this prep course? How am I going to write that having been done school for two years or for a year, like, how am I supposed to do that? And this just helped get rid of that barrier," Volk said.

Now, Volk is in her first year of medical school at the University of Alberta and volunteers with MD AIDE to help students get into medical school.

More information about the program can be found here.


Travis McEwan

Video journalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who covers stories ranging from human interest and sports to municipal and provincial issues. Originally from Churchill, Man., Travis has spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton reporting for web, radio and television. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca.