Since 2014, Dalhousie has been welcoming youth from the province’s African Nova Scotian community to campus each summer, showing them they belong and are welcome in the health sciences fields.
Organized by PLANS (Promoting Leadership in Health for African Nova Scotian Students), the annual African Nova Scotian Health Sciences camp invites students in grades 8-11 to learn about opportunities and careers in fields like medicine, dentistry and other health professions — areas where visible minorities are still underrepresented.
This year’s camp, which took place in early July, saw participation more than double in size to 39 (up from 19 last year) thanks in part to support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, a U.S.-based foundation that seeks to improve access to education for underrepresented groups. Last fall, the foundation committed to matching all donor gifts to PLANS and Dal’s Aboriginal Health Sciences Initiative, up to $1 million.
As part of that extended scope, the camp has expanded its reach to Cape Breton. Students in grades 8-11 can now learn about the various health professions at Cape Breton University.
“I hope the students take away new friendships, excitement about their futures and hope that they can have a career in health and be successful,” says Michelle Patrick, program coordinator at PLANS. “I also hope they will tell their friends so we can continue to grow even more.”
Mentors and role models
Current African Nova Scotian students enrolled in Health Sciences programs at Dalhousie act as camp counselors for attendees, allowing them to guide and mentor the younger students and show them what they can achieve.
Liette Williams, a fourth-year Diagnostic Medical Ultrasound student, has been working with the camp for three years.
“I saw advertising for the camp through Dalhousie and thought it would be a great thing to get involved with,” she says. “I didn’t know of opportunities like this when I was trying to decide what to do after high school. I hope this camp encourages students to pursue a career in the Health Professions.”
“This camp is awesome because it exposes the students to career paths that they may have never thought of,” says Rukevwe Erhenede, a fourth-year Dal student studying Microbiology and Immunology, who worked at the camp for the first time this year. “This will be my first year working at the camp, I think it’s always good to give back to the community so I decided it would be really cool to mentor students who are interested in the health professions. I’m looking to go into dentistry so I thought this would be a nice way to tell some people what it’s like to be in the health professions and get African Nova Scotian students interested in that path.”
Both Liette and Rukevwe believe lack of support and encouragement plays a key role in the underrepresentation of African Nova Scotian’s in the Health Professions.
“They need more people to tell them that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to,” said Rukevwe. “They need more people to believe in them."
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