Five-per­son Indige­nous med­i­cal stu­dent cap lifted at Univer­sity of Al­berta


A five-per­son limit on the num­ber of Indige­nous stu­dents ad­mit­ted to the Univer­sity of Al­berta’s med­i­cal school each aca­demic year is be­ing elim­i­nated.

All Indige­nous stu­dents who meet el­i­gi­bil­ity re­quire­ments will be ad­mit­ted, end­ing the three-decade-old quota sys­tem cre­ated as a means to track what was a small num­ber of Indige­nous stu­dents, the univer­sity an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

“Thirty years ago, Indige­nous post­sec­ondary en­roll­ment was nowhere near where it is now, so hold­ing five spots out of the to­tal MD Pro­gram seat al­lot­ment was a mean­ing­ful mea­sure,” Ti­betha Kem­ble, di­rec­tor of the Indige­nous Health Ini­tia­tive Pro­gram in the fac­ulty of medicine and den­tistry, said in a state­ment.

“Over time, this once mean­ing­ful mea­sure be­came a lim­i­ta­tion.”

The new ad­mis­sion pol­icy is partly in re­sponse to the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion’s 2015 rec­om­men­da­tions, specif­i­cally one which calls on all lev­els of gov­ern­ment to in­crease the num­ber of Indige­nous pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in the health-care field.

The Royal Com­mis­sion on Abo­rig­i­nal Peo­ples (RCAP) of 1996 re­ported health out­comes among Indige­nous pop­u­la­tions, with life ex­pectancy about seven to eight years less than non-indige­nous Cana­di­ans. Since then — de­spite new fund­ing and ini­tia­tives to im­prove Indige­nous health out­comes — things have got­ten worse.

In terms of life ex­pectancy, 2018 fed­eral num­bers show Indige­nous peo­ple now have a 15-year shorter life ex­pectancy than non-indige­nous peo­ple — nearly two times the rate re­ported more than 20 years ago.

Kem­ble says more Indige­nous physi­cians are vi­tal to close that health gap be­cause they un­der­stand the lived re­al­ity of Indige­nous pa­tients and are able to pro­vide them with cul­tur­ally-safe care.

Four new full-tu­ition scholarships

Next Septem­ber, and for each of the next four years, the MD pro­gram will also award four new full-tu­ition scholarships to en­ter­ing Indige­nous stu­dents.

Indige­nous stu­dents ap­ply­ing to the U of A’s MD pro­gram face the same aca­demic el­i­gi­bil­ity re­quire­ments as those for nonindige­nous stu­dents ― all ap­pli­cants must meet the re­quired MCAT scores and cu­mu­la­tive GPA.

Once ap­pli­cants suc­cess­fully meet the min­i­mum aca­demic re­quire­ments, they must also sub­mit a sec­ondary medicine ap­pli­ca­tion and com­plete an on­line as­sess­ment. A short-list of ap­pli­cants are then in­vited for in­ter­views.

Only at this point in the ap­pli­ca­tion process does the ad­mis­sion process dif­fer for Indige­nous ap­pli­cants, who are in­vited to un­dergo an ad­di­tional in­ter­view with a panel com­prised of elders and Indige­nous com­mu­nity mem­bers and physi­cians. The Indige­nous health ad­mis­sions sub­com­mit­tee will then make rec­om­men­da­tions to the MD ad­mis­sions com­mit­tee for ad­mis­sion.

‘Long-term vi­sion’

Kem­ble said that a crit­i­cal mass of Indige­nous univer­sity stu­dents will even­tu­ally lead to a crit­i­cal mass of Indige­nous fac­ulty, teach­ers and other staff.

“It’s when Indige­nous physi­cians, ed­u­ca­tors and other pro­fes­sion­als go back to their com­mu­ni­ties and give back at that di­rect ser­vice level that their abil­ity to be­come change mak­ers in their com­mu­ni­ties and across their pro­fes­sions is pro­found. That’s re­ally the longterm vi­sion,” she said.

Kem­ble adds that a his­tory of colo­nial poli­cies re­sulted in cul­tur­ally dis­rup­tive in­ter­ac­tions with the health care sys­tem — she points as far back as the 1880 amend­ment to the In­dian Act to demon­strate how Cana­dian med­i­cal schools have pre­vi­ously, un­know­ingly or know­ingly, been par­tic­i­pants in the larger colo­nial ef­fort of as­sim­i­la­tion.

“The 1880 amend­ment made it so if you en­tered into med­i­cal school, you would lose your sta­tus as an In­dian per­son. You couldn’t go back home. That was in place for 81 years, so from that per­spec­tive, there were so few of us who dared to en­ter these walls and build­ings,” said Kem­ble.

The med­i­cal school ac­cepts 165 new stu­dents ev­ery year and re­ceives well over 1,400 applications.


A sign at the Univer­sity of Al­berta in Ed­mon­ton, Alta. on Wed­nes­day May 16, 2018.

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