A new admissions pathway recently announced by Dalhousie Medical School aims to diversify the healthcare workforce by adjusting admission processes to be more equitable for Black learners.
The Black Learners Admissions Pathway (BLAP) has been approved for the 2023/2024 application cycle and will reduce barriers faced by Black applicants on their path to medical school by assessing applications using a holistic file review.
The Black Learners Admissions Subcommittee (BLAS), comprised of Black community and academic representation, and led by Dr. Leah Jones, Dal's academic director of Black health, and supported by Promoting Leadership in Health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) program manager, Timi Idris, has been established to oversee this process.
Until now African Nova Scotian and Black applicants could voluntarily self-identify to be considered for admission under Dalhousie’s Education Equity Statement and if they met the academic and non-academic requirements, they would be provided admissions offers which are not dependent on rankings. Although there has been an increase in Black learners within medical education, the percentage of African Nova Scotian and Black Maritimer applicants has been steadily decreasing.
“Research has shown that there is a potential bias in standardized testing for Black students and the current admission model does not make accommodations for this,” says Idris. “As applications increase and become more competitive, it becomes more difficult for Black students because the process does not account for, or acknowledge, the barriers that Black students might face in the admissions process that makes them ineligible.”
Many African Nova Scotian and Black applicants are deemed ineligible from admission due to GPA and other standardized test scores, a crucial component of the current application process. For many of these applicants, this is due to reasons that are often out of their control, such as race, income, and access to education.
Lack of representation
There is a significant lack of representation of Black learners within medical schools and in turn the Canadian medical workforce. Changing this starts with welcoming historically marginalized groups to medical school. 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. The Black Learners Admissions Pathway aims to fulfill the same goal for African Nova Scotian, Black Maritimer, and other Black applicants.
Under the Black Learners Admissions Pathway, applicants who voluntarily self-identify as Black will be considered for a holistic file review. 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.
This approach will allow applicants to demonstrate the perseverance and skills that Black people build through how they navigate the world that we live in, skills that are sought after in physicians today. The BLAS will then assess the applicant's file as a whole and determine eligibility for admissions.
“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. Jones. “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.”
Applicants with a substantial connection to historic African Nova Scotian and other Black Maritime communities in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island will be prioritized under the Black Learners Admissions Pathway. Black applicants from across the Maritimes and Canada who report substantial connection to their Black heritage will also be considered under the Black Learners Admissions Pathway, beginning with the 2023/2024 application cycle.
Timi Idris (second from left), Dr. Leah Jones (centre), and members of Dalhousie’s Black Medical Student Association.
Supporting student success
With an increase in numbers of admitted Black and Indigenous learners, Dalhousie will take furthers steps to help provide adequate supports.
Dr. Jones will be collaborating with Dr. Brent Young, academic director of Indigenous Health, alongside PLANS and Keknu’tmasiek Ta’n Tel Welo’ltimk / We are Learning to be Well, to ensure students admitted under this pathway have the resources they need.
“Increasing Black medical students within our medical school is just the beginning,” says Dr. Jones.
Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, associate dean, serving and engaging society in the Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Shawna O’Hearn, director of the Office of Community Partnerships and Global Health, are actively working within the Faculty to ensure safe spaces for learners.
The Black Learners Admissions Pathway will undergo an annual review by the subcommittee who will continue to engage with partners from African Nova Scotian and Black leadership organizations to ensure Black applicants are assessed appropriately, with the goal of balanced representation of Black learners in Medicine and Black physicians in our Maritime communities.
“It is an honour to lead the development of the Black Learners Admissions Pathway in the Faculty of Medicine,” says Dr. Jones. “This moment is the result of years of advocacy and perseverance from Black community leaders and organizations here in Nova Scotia, with PLANS co-founders Dr. David Haase and Dr. Barb Hamilton-Hinch, and the Office of Community Partnerships and Global Health’s associate director, Michelle Patrick, paving the way.”
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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