Early on Saturday, September 10, a diverse group of students and health care professionals came together in an amphitheater in the McIntyre Medical Building to participate in the first Community Involvement Conference. The conference was organized by the Medical Students’ Society of McGill (MSS) in an effort to get students thinking about social issues. This event also marked the official launch of the new Community Involvement Strategic Plan, which the MSS plans to gradually implement throughout the year. A wide range of topics were covered, but the theme shared by all presentations was that each of us should, in our own way, work on something that could have a positive impact on our community.
The conference featured a collection of inspiring speakers. Gilles Julien, assistant professor of pediatrics at McGill, gave a presentation about working in the field of social pediatrics. His decades long career is based on promoting children’s health and development by moving beyond a standard clinical approach to acknowledge social, economic, and environmental factors that also contribute to heath. Julien also relentlessly advocates for patient rights. Thus, he takes the traditional role of the pediatrician a step further in his quest to see children flourish.
Saleem Razack, assistant dean of admissions, equity, and diversity for McGill’s Faculty of Medicine, was another speaker. He discussed the importance of promoting diversity in medical school by giving underrepresented groups, including rural and aboriginal students, wider access to medical studies. The hope is that these graduates will then return and serve their communities which currently suffer severe health care provider shortages.
“There’s a large basis of literature that shows that a diverse group serves a diverse population,” he noted during his presentation.
Steps taken to reach that goal include targeted recruitment of underrepresented populations and removal of unnecessary selection barriers in the admissions process. Three medical students alongside Paige Isaac and Kakwiranóron Cook – coordinators of the McGill First Peoples’ House – explained that recruitment is partially achieved with the Regional Initiative. This project brings students from rural regions and First Nations reserves to McGill for a day. They participate in workshops and anatomy lab activities under the guidance of medical students. Many leave feeling excited by what they’ve experienced and some even begin to consider the possibilities of a future career in medicine.
Tarek Razek, director of trauma care at the McGill University Health Center, expressed his concerns that, in the assessment of global health issues, problems that require surgery often take the backseat to infectious diseases like HIV or tuberculosis. He encouraged the future physicians in the room to “become more aware of broader social issues, and [their] role” in addressing them.
“With this event, we wanted to set the tone for the year,” said Esli Osmanlliu, MSS president. “In addition to all the services the MSS traditionally offers the medical students, we’re adding this new theme of community involvement which I think will be very beneficial to our student body and to our community as a whole. With the conference, we’re trying to get the interest going. I’m certain the students will feel it’s something they’ll want to get involved with.”
The goal of the Community Involvement Plan is to support and unify community programs within the Faculty of Medicine through a variety of new services aimed at helping students develop new projects and reinforce existing ones. One of the ways in which they will do this is financial support: a fund is currently being set up with the McGill Alumni Association to incentivize and to facilitate initiatives. A student committee will be formed to evaluate project submissions and allocate the money to different groups. Criteria for project selection will include benefits to the community and sustainability. Proposals that incorporate participation of members of other faculties will be encouraged.
Education and communication are also top priorities in this initiative. Workshops will be set up that discuss subjects like community advocacy or fundraising skills. In addition, more conferences will be organized to tackle ethical and controversial community- and health-related topics.
Osmanlliu takes the positive comments he received and the enthusiasm he observed after the conference as promising signs.
“This enthusiasm is contagious and that’s what we’re relying on,” he said. “We’re relying on students to talk to other students, to get people from all the faculties involved, to get community organizations involved. We want to offer the students as many tools as possible and give them opportunities to learn in order to eventually facilitate the creation of projects or even to simply trigger thoughts on how they can be a positive members in the community. I’d like to see a sense of cohesion develop in the domain of community involvement at McGill.”