McGill health sciences students provide mentorship to those interested in health professions
In 2019, a group of McGill medical students decided they wanted to do something to help encourage high school students from underrepresented communities to pursue studies and careers in the health professions, and launched Academic Immersion in Healthcare (AIH), supported by Dialogue McGill and the Social Accountability and Community Engagement Office, offering interactive, immersive workshops to high schools across the Montreal area.
While the workshops were great at captivating students, the medical students realized that the one-time nature of these interactions limited the long-term impact they could have. “Lack of long-term support and mentoring can be a particularly difficult barrier for students applying to healthcare programs from underrepresented backgrounds,” says medical student and current AIH co-President Minahil Khan. “We wanted to address this gap through a mentorship program that would provide students with guidance and support to pursue their dreams.”
The mentorship program, which Khan co-founded with her AIH co-President Natasha Barone, aimed to create long-term connections between healthcare students and high-school students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the healthcare community. Sharing resources, knowledge and experiences, mentors provide mentees with the tools to navigate the obstacles they may face on their way through post-secondary education and to confidently pursue the healthcare career they desire. “Mentors provide both career-specific information, such as explaining the roles of the different professions and pathway to the programs, as well as general life skills, such as CV tips and study strategies,” explains Barone. “Ultimately, we hope for our mentees to come away feeling like they have the support needed to follow the path they desire.”
Reaching across the community to recruit mentors
The group used social media channels and student associations to recruit mentors, all of whom must go through a thorough application and training process. AIH VP Mentorships Jenny Dimakos and Sara Marier manage the program from 2021-2022.
The uptake has been greater than the AIH team had hoped. “Following last year where we developed the program and ran a small, condensed version with a select few students, we officially launched the full program this fall,” notes Barone. “In just our first year, we have a total of 105 mentees registered and 23 mentors from various healthcare programs at McGill.”
Mentors currently represent medicine, nursing, dentistry, and physical therapy. The group hopes to expand on that diversity going forward.
“As an immigrant from a low socioeconomic background, growing up, I always thought the healthcare field was not designed to welcome me. I always thought it was out of reach. I did not dare to dream,” explains trained nurse and current medical student Sarah Moussa, on her desire to give back as a mentor. “In my journey, I was blessed to be mentored by incredible individuals who challenged me and shaped who I am. They allowed me to dream, evolve, and grow. Today, I am proud to call myself a medical student. AIH recreates these impactful relationships at an age where it is needed most and towards the people who need it the most. That’s what makes the initiative so incredible.”
COVID-19 forces a pivot to online
The mentorship program complements AIH’s other services, such as their new e-learning platform, to create a fully engaging longitudinal experience. The first step focuses on immersing the high school students in the life of a healthcare professional through online modules and activities. Students are then encouraged to sign up for the mentorship program, where they can connect with a mentor for more guidance. “We frequently collect feedback from students and mentors, which allows us to constantly evolve and update the program based on what the students need,” says Khan.
To recruit mentees, the AIH team has been working with guidance counsellors at various high schools to distribute the registration forms to students in secondary 3, 4, and 5. They are currently partnered with five high schools in the Montreal and surrounding area, but hoping to expand.
“I was choosing a career with barely any knowledge of the pathway to get the career, or any additional information about the career. When I found out about the program that is being offered to me, I was super ecstatic to join” says secondary 4 student Dara Messina. “This is my second year doing the mentorship program. The first year was extremely beneficial, I learned so much. From just the basics of the health field, all the requirements needed, the pathway to the program, and so forth. It was extremely beneficial because I got to learn things I never knew about the field, and about the job I want to pursue in the future. So far in the second year, with the classes we had, I learned a little more about my future career I want to pursue, the pathway, and I cannot wait to learn more. I recommend this program to many future students because for me it is extremely beneficial, and I have gained much knowledge about the health field.”
The mentorship program runs from October to June, so recruitment is done once a year at the beginning of the school year. “In the next couple months, we will be planning for the next school year to expand the number of schools and mentees we’re working with,” says Barone. “We saw a great demand from our first year and want to reach as many students as possible, including those from more rural regions in the province. We also want to increase the number of mentors from different healthcare professions to ensure a good representation of all the different possibilities within healthcare.”
If you are interested in learning more about AIH, visit aih.healthcare.mcgill.ca where you can find the e-learning platform. For any questions regarding the mentorship program or the initiative at-large, email firstname.lastname@example.org.