The current cap of five spots for Indigenous applicants to the University of Alberta’s medical program is being removed after a motion to do so was passed at General Faculties Council.
The motion was proposed on November 26 by the Indigenous Health Initiatives Program (IHIP), a division founded by the faculty of medicine and dentistry in 1988 in an effort to increase the number of Indigenous students in health sciences. The new policy will be implemented in 2019 for students starting the MD program in 2020, and all students who apply through the Indigenous admissions stream and meet the requirements will be accepted into the program.
While requirements remain the same for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous applicants, Indigenous students have a slightly different application and interview process. Under the current system, students could apply through either track, but IHIP would select up to five candidates to be considered for the program regardless of the number of qualified applicants.
This system, along with other factors, has resulted in Indigenous physician numbers remaining too low for too long, according to Métis MD student Andrew Volk.
“If you look at the per cent of Indigenous physicians in Alberta, I believe it’s well below one per cent, while the Indigenous population is over 10 per cent,” Volk said. “So under the previous system, it would’ve taken over 60 years to close that gap in any meaningful way.”
Tibetha Kemble, director of the IHIP and one of the main leaders of the policy change, stressed the importance of having Indigenous physicians for Indigenous communities.
“Indigenous people feel safer accessing care with Indigenous physicians because they understand their reality, the historical, social, and political context that frames their experiences,” she said.
Shirley Schipper, the faculty’s vice-dean of education, said this policy was mainly born out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, which states specific actions necessary “in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”
Schipper also hopes this change will inspire other universities to take similar steps.
“What I’m hoping it will do is, spur other schools to think whether or not it’s time to change their process of admissions,” she said
Another program in the faculty, the Medical Laboratory Sciences program, has also changed its admission programs to remove a cap for Indigenous applicants.
“It really shows that our whole faculty is going in the same direction,” Schipper said.
Now Volk, along with other Indigenous MD students, are working to establish a mentorship program to help further increase the number of Indigenous physicians.
“With the mentorship program, I want to be able to give back to other Indigenous students, to make the process less daunting and encourage them to apply,” he said.