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.
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.