Medical school admissions and the MMC: tackling inequities through virtual mentorship

Levi J Ansell,1 Davy Lau,2 Noah Alexander,2 Nicholas Taylor,1 Kenzy Abdelhamid,3 Daniel Shi,4 Nardin Kirolos,5 Katherine Lacaille McGuire5

1University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada; 2University of British Columbia, British Columbia, Canada; 3McGill University, Quebec, Canada; 4Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada; 5University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


The problem

Representation in medicine has been heavily discussed recently, especially in the context of the Black and Indigenous Lives Matter movements. Medical schools have long been challenged to create an admission process that promotes diversity and equity for all applicants. For students, gaining admission into medical school can be a complex, intricate process that requires years of planning.

Getting into medical school is influenced by a myriad of factors. Some applicants may have relatives or family friends in the medical field who can provide assistance through the rigorous journey. As intersectionality often works, those lacking social connections to medicine often face financial, geographical, and practical challenges to pursuing medicine. Pre-medical students often resort to forums, such as Reddit, for advice. Anonymous forums share many characteristics: the information is variable, unreliable, and potentially misleading.

A 2018 cross-sectional survey of demographics of Canadian medical students found that over half came from household incomes over $100,000 per year, in stark contrast to the overall demographics of the Canadian population.1 This has implications for patient care, creating an empathy gap between future healthcare workers and the populations they serve. While there have been efforts to improve representation of marginalized populations in medicine, there remains an urgent need to address the systemic factors that prevent applicants from diverse backgrounds from entering medicine.

With the cost of the MCAT, interview preparation, and application review, there are immense financial barriers to becoming a competitive applicant. Costs for MCAT preparation courses and interview practice can be enormous. Those with greater financial assets may spend significantly more for additional consulting services. This puts an insurmountable divide between students who can afford these services and those who cannot. Without guidance, it is easy to mistakenly pour time, energy, and money into unfruitful aspects of an application.

The solution

Dr. Alexander, an emergency physician in Vancouver, and a small team of dedicated medical student volunteers formed the Medical Mentor Community (MMC) in January 2020. The MMC’s mission is to “level the playing field of medical school admissions.” Our team is dedicated to ensuring equal access to mentoring from medical students and others in the medical profession.

How is the MMC different?

Simply put, our community has people who have been through the gamut. With medical student, resident, and physician mentors from across the country, we have captured a breadth of experiences that help us relate to every incoming student. We have mentors who were accepted to medical school on their first attempt, and others for whom medicine is a second or third career. We are not a collection of hopefuls, but people that want to distill hope into those hopefuls.

Interestingly, our form of virtual, team mentorship was established before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world. Because our mentors span the entire country, we had to be mobile and flexible to start. We use an app named Slack, with channels to categorize the components of the application process such as academics, interviews, volunteering, and research. We have channels, such as “Life as a med student,” that offer a holistic view of medicine and contribute to the MMC being more than just a resource, but a supportive network.

We respond to publicly posted questions and provide applicants with mentor-authored articles and resources to help guide them through the process. Our open-style mentorship encourages users to ask questions for the benefit of the entire community. Mentees can access this advice at any time, ensuring that our core value of ‘leveling the playing field’ and equitable guidance is upheld. We also help applicants prepare for their MCAT, CASPer, application submission, and interviews.

Growth and leadership structure

From a mere ten mentors in January 2020, we now have over 200 mentors from 13 Canadian medical schools. We have connected with over 600 students who want to learn about the world of medicine. Each time a need is identified within our community, someone steps in to fill that need. There are currently eight Associate Directors, each with specific responsibilities tailored to their interests and skills. Accountability and productivity are managed through regular meetings, live documents, and tracking of key performance indicators. Our leadership team has expanded to meet the growing needs of our virtual community.

Another interesting aspect of our community is that some of the growth is initiated by the pre-med students themselves. A prime example is one of our subchannels in the community, #non-traditional, where students distant from formal academic settings can discover how to highlight their achievements in the post-undergraduate world. Members of this channel have something that sets them apart from many other students who will apply and knowing how to capitalize on this is paramount. It is our hope that we can continue building subchannels for all minorities and marginalized communities (Black, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQ+, first generation immigrants, etc.) looking to demonstrate their unique strengths. Our dynamic growth and flexibility allows us to help individuals with greater precision and tailor the experience to the emerging needs of the community.

Wrapping up

So, now what?  If you are an early learner with an interest in medicine, check us out. If you are already a medical student and this sounds like a mission you want to be a part of, reach out and come on board. If you are already an established member in the medical community, perhaps you can mentor us. If you have means to share our message and community, please do so.

We are committed to knocking down barriers and helping every applicant on their journey. We are excited to announce that we have already seen members successfully gain acceptance to Canadian MD programs!. Find more on our website: https://www.medicalmentorcommunity.com/. Questions can be directed to myself or our community email at: MedicalMentorCommunity@gmail.com.

References

  1. Khan R, Apramian T, Kang JH. et al. Demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of Canadian medical students: a cross-sectional study. BMC Med Educ 2020; 20: 151. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-020-02056-x

 

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