Edmonton

U of A program aids Indigenous and low-income students in pursuit of medical degree

Pursuing a career in medicine can be expensive, challenging and overwhelming for anyone, particularly for some with Indigenous or lower socioeconomic backgrounds. But two medical students at the University of Alberta are hoping to change that.

Two med students join forces to break down barriers with admission test preparation and mentoring

Alex Wong, left, and Emily Fong started MD AIDE, which helps people from Indigenous and underserved communities break down barriers to careers in medicine. (Melissa Fabrizio/Supplied)

Pursuing a career in medicine can be expensive, challenging and overwhelming for anyone.

For those from Indigenous or lower socioeconomic backgrounds, it can be even more difficult.

But two medical students at the University of Alberta are hoping to change that.

Emily Fong and Alex Wong recall looking around their classrooms and noticing a lack of diversity around them.

"This is due to numerous barriers, we think, in the admissions process, both financial and social," Wong told CBC's Radio Active radio program.

Taking the medical college admission test, or MCAT, costs hundreds of dollars. An MCAT prep course can cost up to $1,800. And if the student passes the test, tuition costs at least $12,000 a year, according to the U of A's website.

Fong and Wong's program, MD AIDE, offers free MCAT preparation as well as mentorship for Indigenous students and others from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

"The students who can afford it really have a leg up over students who can't," Wong said.

"I think social barriers are something that are often underestimated, but we realized that having mentors in the medical field or having early exposure to this to get you thinking about a career in medicine, is also really important," Fong added.

MD AIDE is a three-month program that will provide MCAT preparation — with four current medical students teaching one part of the MCAT. They'll help with tutoring, time management and format of the questions on the test.

It follows in the footsteps of Venture Healthcare, a pilot program started at the U of A last year that gave students from similar backgrounds a chance to job shadow health professionals.

"[It's] just to give them a glimpse of what medicine is like, what a career in medicine is like, and to help them through the application process," Fong said.

Serving their communities

Wong said having more students from diverse backgrounds not only helps create a level playing field for students, it also can help better the country's health care system.

"The best physician population looks like the Canadian population," Wong said.

Research shows that students from lower-income neighbourhoods and Indigenous communities are more likely to return to practise in their communities, which tend to be underserved, Wong and Fong said.

The students who can afford it really have a leg up over students who can't.- Alex Wong

But there's a broader benefit as well.

"This is really about improving health care for Canadians as well," Wong said. "The lived experience is really important — being able to connect with patients."

To find out more about the program, you can visit MD AIDE's Facebook page or email them at mdaide@ualberta.ca.