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Well-being for all

Indigenous Pathways student Alex Marshall poses in a hallway with art behind

10 applicants who were offered a seat at Dalhousie Medical School under the new Indigenous Admissions Pathway began their studies in 2023. Alex Marshall is one of these students.

In 2022, Dalhousie Medical School announced an Indigenous Admissions Pathway to help eliminate the barriers faced by Mi’kmaw, Wolastoqiyik, Peskotomuhkati, and other Indigenous students in their journey to Dalhousie medical school. These students began their studies in 2023. The Black Learners Admissions Pathway, announced in 2023, aims to fulfill the same goal for African Nova Scotian, Black Maritimer, and other Black applicants.

The Indigenous Admissions Pathway is led by Dr. Brent Young, Academic Director for Indigenous Health, and supported by Keknu’tmasiek Ta’n Tel Welo’ltimk (pronounced: gag-new-d-muss-seeg dawn del well-oh-l-dim-k, a Mi’kmaw phrase that translates to “we are learning to be well”) Program Manager Faith Julien. This admissions pathway addresses the barriers that have prevented Indigenous applicants from entering medical school at Dalhousie.

Opening doors

“The previous admissions model was challenging because we know that Indigenous people and other racialized folks are at a disadvantage when it comes to standardized tests such as the MCAT,” says Dr. Young. “This is related to several socioeconomic factors including language, access to education, and income. For Indigenous people, these factors are all influenced by racism and the ongoing legacy of colonization in Canada.” 

The Black Learners Admissions Pathway (BLAP) aims to diversify the healthcare workforce by adjusting admission processes to be more equitable for Black learners.

There is a significant lack of representation of Black learners within medical schools, and in turn, the Canadian medical workforce. Although there has been an increase in Black learners within medical education, the number of African Nova Scotian and Black Maritimer applicants is very low.

Under the BLAP, applicants who voluntarily self-identify as Black will be considered for a holistic file review by a committee of Black faculty, learners, staff and community members named the Black Learners Admissions Subcommittee (BLAS).  While the medical school will not do away with traditional testing procedures, should a Black applicant not meet one component of the traditional requirements, they can further themselves in a written personal statement. This statement will allow them to describe how their identification with, and connection to their Black ancestry and community impacted their educational path and goals.

Representation matters

“The personal statement provides learners the opportunity to share with the BLAS their connection and dedication to their Black community, while also providing context to personal challenges they encountered getting to the point of applying to medical school,” says Dr. Leah Jones, Dalhousie’s Academic Director of Black health. “African Nova Scotian and Black Maritimers have had centuries of disadvantage in access to education as a result of the anti-Black racism that exists in all our systems. Navigating these challenges inadvertently cultivates valuable attributes within our people — attributes vital in a physician.”

Dr. Jones and her team will continue to listen to community and address the implicit and explicit biases that exist in the medical admissions process. She is hopeful this will translate to equitable opportunity for medical education for African Nova Scotian and Black Maritime learners.

“Representation matters, and it is lacking within the physician workforce in the Maritimes. I can’t wait to see that change and improve health outcomes for Black communities.”

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