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Club supports Black physicians of the future

Dominic Stephenson, a third-year health studies, psychology and biology student at U of T Scarborough, chairs the Future Black Physicians club. (Photo by Raquel A. Russell)

While U of T recently launched the Black Student Application Program (BSAP) to strengthen diversity in medical schools, several University of Toronto Scarborough students saw a gap in the support for those who wanted to build their experience and education before applying.

The Future Black Physicians club at U of T Scarborough (FBP) offers a solution.

“Our mission is to help racialized students aspiring to medicine,” says FBP chair Dominic Stephenson, a third-year health studies, psychology and biology student at U of T Scarborough. “We provide support by connecting students to black physicians and black students who are already in medical school, so that students can have an easier time envisioning where they want to be.”

The club, originally created in 2015 and revived by Stephenson and founder Gary Wilson, hosts networking events, preparation for applying to medical school such as practice MCATs, and Q & A’s with current black medical school students and physicians.

“Last year we created an environment for students to talk to these students and physicians who can tell them how they felt and how being a minority in medical school affected them,” says Stephenson. “I could feel the hunger to know with questions like ‘what is it like? How did you get to where you are? Do you have a life outside of medical school?’”

Stephenson’s interest in creating a pre-med group such as FBP came out of her experience as an immigrant to Canada three years ago. She and her family, originally from Jamaica, immigrated from New York after she was accepted to U of T Scarborough’s Health Studies program – a step on her path to medical school.

That path was complicated with challenges Stephenson encountered once settling in Ontario.

“I was so overwhelmed by being in a new country, new school, not knowing anybody and I struggled to stay on track with planning for medical school,” says Stephenson.

She spoke with fellow students, and leaders in the U of T community and quickly discovered she was not alone in her concerns and desire to connect.  

Stephenson brainstormed with like-minded students and joined forces with Wilson, who founded the 2015 Future Black Physicians and is double majoring in Human Biology and Neuroscience as well as minoring in Psychology and Music & Culture.

“Dominic brought herself, along with a few other people, to inject FBP with new life,” says Wilson.

Today the organization has official club recognition from the University’s Department of Student Life and the Scarborough Campus Students' Union (SCSU). They have also enjoyed the support of U of T staff member, Ike Okafor since 2015. Okafor is the Senior Officer at the Office of Health Professions Student Affairs (OHPSA) and founder of the Community of Support (COS) - an initiative to increase the number of students that are Indigenous, Black, or economically disadvantaged in the University of Toronto MD program, and in medical schools. COS and student chapters like FBP preceded BSAP as part of the Faculty of Medicine’s strategy to build a pool of qualified applicants for medical school.

“It’s important for students to have a group they can connect with,” says Okafor.

Okafor praises Stephenson for her efforts with FBP saying her, “superb leadership skills make the FBP a formidable student group on the UTSC campus.”

Since 2016 and with support from groups like COS, FBP has organized seven official events such as the Ignite COS Conference –where physicians spoke about their experiences studying in Canada, the Caribbean and the United States – and the Black Mental Health Workshop – a workshop featuring community social worker Racquel Hamlet who facilitated an interactive workshop on black mental health, addressing stigma and the supports in the community.

Recently awarded the Best New Club 2016-2017 award by SCSU in recognition of their work, programming and impact, FBP is not slowing down in their efforts to increase representation and provide support.

“It’s great to realize that our hard work has been recognized,” says Stephenson. “We just want to keep moving forward and reaching out to as many people as possible.”

 

Watch Dominic Stephenson and Gary Wilson share more about FBP here.

 




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