McGill medical students hoping to inspire new generation of black health care professionals

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Initiative aims to expose high school students to opportunities in health professions fields

“As medical students, we’ve seen first-hand that the diversity of the Canadian and Montreal populations aren’t reflected in our medical school class,” notes Lashanda Skerritt, a second-year medical student at McGill University and one of the two co-founders of the CHASM-supported initiative known as “Supporting Young Black Students” (SYBS). “The vibrancy that the voices of Black students, Indigenous students, students with disabilities, students from rural areas of Quebec, and students who grew up in poorer families contribute is lacking.”

This underrepresentation is an issue that can be found in medical schools across Canada, and is something that many are working diligently to address, including at McGill, in part, through the Faculty of Medicine’s Social Accountability and Community Engagement Office, which SYBS has been working with. Through SYBS, Lashanda, along with co-founder and fellow McGill second-year medical student Clément Bélanger Bishinga hope to make their own impact by giving local Black high school students a glimpse into what different careers in health profession fields look like. The duo, who have recruited first-year medical students Menal Huroy and Krislia Cunningham to join their leadership team, hope to achieve this goal by organizing hands-on workshops, discussion panels with health care professionals and shadowing opportunities so that high school students can start to imagine a future for themselves in health care-related careers. “The SYBS program aims to make medicine and other health-related fields accessible to those who have historically not had the same opportunities to succeed in these areas,” explains Clément.

Though Lashanda and Clement are preparing to officially launch SYBS in May, their first activity was a clinical skills workshop for Montreal high school students organized in collaboration with the McGill’s Black Students’ Network as part of their Youth Day activities on March 23. “We hosted 60 high school students who were able to test reflexes, suture and use stethoscopes to listen to heart sounds and take blood pressure,” says Krislia. “The students had a lot of fun and we are excited to host similar events in the future.”

The importance of mentorship

Another way that SYBS is hoping to make a difference is through the introduction of a mentorship program whereby students in grades 7 to 11 will be paired with a mentor in the form of a student already studying in a health professions field. “Mentorship is important in career development in many areas, not just medicine,” explains Lashanda. “Part of its value is the support that it provides as one navigates personal and professional growth. For example, for someone interested in a career in medicine, the process of preparing and applying for medical school can be complicated and intimidating. Many students will apply multiple times and receive multiple rejections before they finally receive their acceptance letter. It helps to have someone who has gone through the process and who can offer advice and encouragement to help you succeed.”

SYBS is currently recruiting both mentors and mentees to participate in the program. Lashanda and Clement encourage anyone who is interested in participating in any capacity to reach out to them by sybs.health [at] gmail.com (e-mail), or via their Facebook or Twitter accounts. “A lot of the interest in our program so far has been generated through word-of-mouth,” adds Lashanda. “So, if you know of any high school students who might be interested in this, share the SYBS social media links with them. And if you are curious about what our events look like, we welcome you to attend, for example, our upcoming careers in health care panel, scheduled for September.”

To learn more about SYBS contact sybs.health [at] gmail.com or visit https://www.facebook.com/SYBS.Health/