Sask. med school opens seats to disadvantaged students

The College of Medicine has launched a new initiative that sets aside six seats for students who come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

Growing up in high income family a big advantage, says dean

The University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine has set aside six seats in a new program designed to level the playing field and bring more students in who come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background. (CBC)

The dean at the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan says that too many doctors come from privilege and may not represent the population they serve.

"We are quite committed to being a socially accountable medical school," said Dr. Preston Smith in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

The college has launched a new initiative that sets aside six seats for students who come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

This is an effort to kind of level the playing field.- Dr. Preston Smith

Students can qualify based on more than just family income

"You know we are skewing our profession to be a group that's not representative of our population as a whole," explained Smith.

Privilege, Smith said, begins early. Children from high income families, he said, reap the benefits of a more rounded life steeped in learning opportunities.

"School trips, family vacations where you see the world, all provide you with knowledge and skills that make you very competitive to get into medical school."

Dr. Preston Smith (centre) receives the 2018 ASPIRE-to-Excellence Award in Social Accountability on behalf of the College of Medicine. (University of Saskatchewan website )

International recognition 

The six seats, part of the Diversity of Social Accountability Admission Program, still demand that applicants meet the tough academic standards to get into medical school. But, Smith said, if applicants fail to gain regular entry and can demonstrate need, they can try again under this new program.   

"This is an effort to kind of level the playing field and make sure that bright and capable young people from lower socioeconomic background or other disadvantages might have an equal chance to get into medical school."

The U of S also sets aside seats each year for Indigenous students. It has the second highest number of Indigenous graduates among medical schools in Canada.

The work is being recognized. The U of S College of Medicine recently won an award for social accountability at a medical education conference in Europe.

Smith hopes the efforts will pay off in a field of doctors that looks like and shares some of the life experiences of the people they are caring for.

with files from Saskatoon Morning