Nova Scotia

Summer camps introduce young black Nova Scotians to career in medicine

The camps are part of Dalhousie's Promoting Leadership in Health for African Nova Scotians program, which also provides resources and mentorship for students already enrolled at the university.

Camps for grades 8-11 provide mentorship, hands-on experience

Michelle Patrick (left), the camp's program manager, met Kayla Beals (right) during the first summer camp in 2014. (Eileen McInnis/CBC)

When Kayla Beals got her acceptance letter to Dalhousie University's medical sciences program in Halifax, the first person she called was Michelle Patrick.

The two met when Beals, now 18, attended the first African Nova Scotian Health Science Summer Camp in 2014.

Patrick is program manager for the camp, which gives students in grades 8-11 hands-on experience as nurses, dentists and doctors in the hopes they'll consider a career in those fields. 

"I'd say the most beneficial thing I've got from Michelle is the contacts and having someone there to mentor me every step of the way," Beals told CBC's Information Morning.

Since that first year, the number of camp participants has grown to 50 from 15, and when the camps begin next month, they'll take place at Dalhousie, Cape Breton and St. Francis Xavier universities. 

It's all about introducing black youth to role models in their communities, said Patrick. 

"One of our medical graduates this year said the reason why she wanted to go into medicine was because she saw and met a black doctor when she was young. So that in itself is huge," she said.

'Unprecedented' graduating class

The camps are part of Dalhousie's Promoting Leadership in Health for African Nova Scotians program, which also provides resources and mentorship for students already enrolled at the university. 

Patrick said the work is starting to pay off. 

This spring, Dalhousie's medical school graduated six doctors of African descent out of 108 grads. Five of them are from Nova Scotia. 

"To see six at one time is unprecedented and we believe the largest that we have ever seen and we hope that it just continues to grow from there," said Patrick.

Path to medicine 

What began as a small group of youth attending a day camp in Halifax has evolved into dozens participating in overnight camps across the province. 

"A path to medicine can start anywhere," said Patrick.

"They don't always have to come to Halifax right away. There are things in their own communities that they can do that will still get them to medicine."

Beals will start her first year in Dalhousie's medical sciences program in the fall on a full scholarship. The program focuses on courses needed for entry into medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and other related graduate programs.

Beals said she's not sure what career she'll choose, but the camps have shown her there are many options. 

"A lot of the times your mind goes straight to doctor but there's so many different avenues that you can go into and the camp kind of helped sort that out a little bit," said Beals.

Mentoring the next generation

The work of the African Nova Scotian Health Science Summer Camps doesn't end when the week is up. Patrick follows up with participants as they apply for university, offering advice or information about scholarships.

Beals still talks regularly with Patrick, and now that she's been accepted into university, she plans to pass on what she's learned when she takes on the role of camp counsellor this summer.

"It's definitely been helpful to kind of guide me where I want to go," said Beals. 

With files from CBC's Information Morning