Opening doors for BIPOC women in medicine
NOSM University is a stalwart champion of BIPOC women (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) in medicine—including those who are trans and non-binary—and making space and resources available to them during their academic journey is an ongoing priority.
It is absolutely critical that BIPOC women take a prominent place in all health-care professions, including in the North. We have long known that for BIPOC people, health outcomes are worse in the presence of structural racism and the absence of culturally-competent care. For example, language and cultural barriers in the treatment of a pregnant refugee could derail a depression diagnosis; Indigenous survivors of trauma caused by Residential Schools can be further harmed without the acknowledgement and validation of that trauma; and incredibly, Black women still suffer under the myth that their pain tolerance is higher than that of white women.
From representation to research, the proportional presence of BIPOC women in Canadian medicine is necessary to ensure that BIPOC women are heard, understood and believed by their health-care providers.
The good news is that there appears to be an increase in the number of BIPOC women applying to NOSM University. But, it is also true that BIPOC and racialized people often have fewer financial resources to draw upon, and often don’t have the same social and academic advantages as their white peers.
In a 2020 peer-reviewed study, researchers found that for now, the status-quo remains true: “Medical students, compared to the census population, are more likely to have grown up in high-income households and have parents who are professionals with high levels of formal education. Medical students are less likely to be Black, Aboriginal, and to have grown up in a rural setting.”
Years ago, NOSM led the way among medical schools by doing things like dropping the MCAT requirement for applicants, as not everyone has the same access to testing support and preparation. Now, NOSM University is doing
more to even the playing field.
We are specifically addressing the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. Recommendation 19 is exactly in line with ongoing research and workforce efforts of NOSM University: “identify and close the gaps in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.”
Another way we are addressing equity has been to acknowledge formally that racist and sexist structural issues exist virtually everywhere. We as leaders in the health-care field must understand and root-out these injustices, starting where we are. That’s why we’ve developed structures and processes that support equity—a new Associate Dean Equity and Inclusion, the Respect the Difference movement, a commitment to curricular renewal, and more reform of our admissions to address accessibility to medical school.
We understand that equity is not a destination, but an ongoing evolution. From the top down, we are learning and unlearning and learning anew. We will protect our students, staff and faculty against sexism and racism. We will seek out and partner with communities and socially responsive organizations who are leading in the social justice movement with metrics of success.
Thanks to a $1 million donation from the Slaight Family Foundation this year, a first-of-its-kind entrance scholarship specifically for BIPOC women has been established. These scholarships will provide $25,000 each to 10 women entering NOSM University’s MD program each year, over a period of four years.
“I am deeply grateful to The Slaight Family Foundation for this gift to NOSM University,” says Dr. Sarita Verma, President, Vice-Chancellor and Dean, and Canada’s first female BIPOC Dean of Medicine. “Every marginalized woman in Northern Ontario who dreams of becoming a doctor should feel inspired to apply to NOSM University knowing there is financial support available.”