'We were only six out of 300': Universite de Montreal looking to enrol more Black med students

The University of Montreal is encouraging Black prospective students to enrol in its medical courses, following a finding that just 1.5 to three per cent of medical students are Black -- a number that holds steady across Canada.

That's an underrepresentation given Montreal's demographics, according to Dr. Jean-Michel Leduc, a U de M professor and a doctor working at Montreal North's health authority.

Young, Black Montrealers aged 15 to 24 -- the group that includes those who are roughly at the age to apply for admission to university -- make up 8.4 per cent of the city's population, he said.

“It is the most under-represented visible minority,” said Leduc, who’s also the head of the school's equity and diversity committee.

“When I was in my first year of medicine, we were only six out of 300,” said Nadège Zanre, a Black obstetrics student.

“It shocked me a little.”

UdeM will collaborate with the Medical Association of Black People of Quebec (AMPRNQ) to create recommendations for an action plan.

“There needs to be a clearly expressed political will,” said Édouard Kouassi, president of AMPRNQ. “Policies need to be in place to encourage representation.”

Other faculties will also participate, including pharmacy, nursing sciences, optometry, and several other departments. 

“It's a very good initiative,” said Kouassi, “especially since the communities were involved from the start.”

SOLUTIONS TO CONSIDER

Leduc offers one possible solution: to shift the priority during admissions to an interview process, rather than a resume.

This would allow prospective students to demonstrate a wider variety of necessary tools in medicine, such as listening, resilience, and empathy.

By contrast, a resume can only provide a limited view into a candidate’s experience, especially for those who may have dealt with socio-economic challenges, he says.

But if admissions officers begin to favour interviews, the people conducting interviews will need to be more diverse, too, some argue.

Nadège Zanre remembers the day of her interview well.

She was in the waiting room – the only Black candidate given an interview, she says. The interviewers were all white, and while he says she didn’t detect any bias, she says she “felt separate” from them.

The curriculum should also be reviewed, said Leduc, so that it is free from prejudice, but also so that it reflects the reality of Black people.

Zanre recounted a story about one of her patients: a Haitian woman entering labour who burst into tears, telling Zanre that it reassured her to have a woman of colour in the room.

“I don't know why it calmed her down, but I know it did," she said. "For that reason, I said to myself that it is really important that there are people of colour in medicine.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2021.

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