McGill medical students Alexandra Fletcher and Bing Yu Chen (right) with members of the Transplant Quebec team (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Fletcher).
McGill medical students Alexandra Fletcher and Bing Yu Chen (right) with members of the Transplant Quebec team (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Fletcher).

For the last two years, over fifty medical students from both Quebec and Canada, under the leadership of two McGill medical students and members of the International Federation of Medical Student Associations-Quebec (IFMSA-Quebec), have been working towards the integration of a course on organ donation into the undergraduate medical curriculum across Quebec and Canada.

An exceptional year for organ donation in Quebec

It’s been an exceptional year for organ donation in Quebec. Transplant Quebec published their 2015 statistics in March 2016, and the numbers represent a record high in the province, with 856 individuals having received an organ, compared to 549 last year. These results are very encouraging.

And yet, organ donation promotion remains a challenge which necessitates both public awareness and physician education. Physicians require this training in order to identify and refer potential donors, approach grieving families about donation and inform patients about how to consent. Despite this, adequate organ and tissue donation teaching is notably absent from most Canadian medical schools curricula.

An unprecedented initiative by medical students

Two McGill medical students, Bing Yu Chen and Alexandra Fletcher, decided upon entering medical school in fall of 2014 to confront the current lack of organs for donation at the source by coming up with a both simple and durable solution. Having noticed the absence of organ donation education within their own medical curriculum, these two IFMSA-Quebec officers for public health decided to create a comprehensive and innovative course on the subject for the four medical faculties in Quebec, with the goal of trans-Canadian adoption always in their line of sight.

Important intensivists and leaders in organ donation, including Dr. Sam Shemie, Dr. Pierre Marsolais, Dr. Stephan Langevin and Dr. Frédérick D’Aragon, collaborated on the development of the course. It has so far been endorsed by the Quebec Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association, the Quebec Society of Intensivists, Transplant Quebec and Hema-Quebec. Furthermore, the project is officially a goal of IFMSA-Quebec and Canadian Blood Services.

A rapidly expanding project

McGill welcomed the student-lead idea with open arms by integrating a one hour course on organ donation into the curriculum’s neurology portion. Student feedback regarding the course has been overwhelmingly positive and their knowledge was measurably improved. For instance, following the lecture, a survey revealed that a full 85% of students strongly agreed that donation should be in the curriculum, compared to 61% prior to the lecture. This initiative has spread to University of Montreal, where the faculty has agreed to adapt its already existing organ donation class based on the student-developed material.

Currently, this initiative has brought together over fifty student leaders from 13 of the 17 medical schools in Canada, and these collaboration efforts are leading towards full curricular integration in the coming years. A position statement on medical education in donation, produced through a joint effort by these student leaders, will be presented in April 2016 during the Canadian Federation of Medical Student general assembly.

A project with international reach

This initiative was a finalist for the IFMSA Rex Crossley Award, meaning that it was considered as one of the best student projects within IFMSA at an international level. During the IFMSA General Assembly in March of 2016, the course material was shared with several interested countries, and the initiative will be published in the August 2016 education of Medical Student International. Finally, this class made a significant contribution to the development and adoption of an international IFMSA organ donation program.

About IFMSA Quebec

IFMSA-Quebec mobilizes all Quebec medical students since 2002. The organization works on the social, cultural and global aspects of health, on the national and international scenes. Active on the six campuses of the province, through its advocacy initiatives, exchange programs, peer education projects and policy statements, IFMSA-Quebec is devoted to health improvement in Quebec and beyond. For more information, visit

March 23, 2016