Mentorship for learners: Fostering a culture of growth, innovation and diversity

Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Roger Guindon Hall

As the first of a two-part series on mentorship at the Faculty of Medicine, this article shares the various opportunities available to students, residents and postdocs to help enrich their learning experience. Next month, we will feature another piece on mentoring for faculty members.

A core value of teaching and learning is mentorship. Over recent years, the Faculty of Medicine has cultivated a thriving list of mentorship programs led by researchers, clinicians and students.

These programs aim to help our diverse community of learners and faculty member to achieve their potential in both studies and professions, while fostering continued education.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Under the leadership of Dr. Catherine Tsilfidis, assistant dean to the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), Dr. Sharon Whiting, vice-dean of Faculty Affairs, and Dr. Darlene Kitty, director of the MD Indigenous Program, there are currently four mentorship programs that support minority groups.

“The responses from these mentorship programs have been overwhelming positive, both from the mentees as well as the mentors leading these great initiatives,” said Dr. Tsilfidis.

Mentorship for LGBTQ2SA+ Students

Established in collaboration with the MD student group, the Aesculapian Society, this mentoring program began as a support group for LGBTQ2SA+ medical students and residents, but has expanded to include graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.  This initiative was launched because LGBTQ2SA+ members felt unrecognized and vulnerable. Many were uncertain if it was safe to be out, or if their sexual orientation would compromise elective opportunities, chances for residency positions, or their overall careers.

The program offers monthly group meetings attended by faculty and learners, but also offers one-on-one mentoring for those  who are not comfortable with the group mentoring format. We discuss issues relevant to the LGBTQ2SA+ community, such as the benefits or drawbacks of revealing your sexuality to colleagues or patients, things to consider when deciding on a training environment, or volunteering opportunities in the LGBTQ2SA+ community.

Mentorship for Female Postdoctoral Fellows

In the basic sciences, the number of women is roughly equal to the number of men at the PhD and post-doctoral levels.  However, men outnumber women 2:1 at the assistant professor level.  In order to understand the drop in the number of female scientists between the postdoctoral stage and the academic stage of their careers, the Office of EDI developed a mentoring program for female postdoctoral fellows.

The program includes monthly mentoring lunches where topics of discussion include career development, job opportunities, setting up a job portfolio, effective presentation techniques and family/work harmony. 

Mentorship for Black MD students at uOttawa

This September, the uOttawa Black Medical Students Association (uOBMSA) was granted official status by the University. Originally formed in 2015, the association currently consists of 16 medical students of African and Caribbean ancestry.

The goal of the association is promote interest in race-based health knowledge, black indigenous cultures and social determinants of equity.

“By raising awareness about Black Canadian health disparities and fostering a community of inclusivity, students will become more compassionate and culturally competent physicians,” says Dr. Whiting, who is the faculty member overseeing the program.

Currently, the association offers monthly group mentoring for MD students and residents. For the last two years, the group has also offered workshops and mock interview training to Black undergraduate students interested in pursuing medicine.

The uOBMSA is also partnered with University of Toronto Community of Support, the uOttawa Aspiring Black Physicians Association, and the Black Physicians Association of Ontario (BPAO), which works to promote diversity in medical schools across the province.

For students, residents and faculty who are interested in participating please contact Dr. Whiting at

Indigenous Mentorship Program

This fall, the Faculty of Medicine, in partnership with the Mashkawazìwogamig Indigenous Resource Centre has also launched an Indigenous mentorship program for undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Ottawa who are interested in or curious about applying to medical school.

“Given the lack of Indigenous representation in the field of medicine, as well as the significant health disparities faced by Indigenous populations, it is critically important to increase the number Indigenous students in the field of medicine in order to better serve and represent the Indigenous patients in our communities,” says Kelsey Shea, an organizer of the program who is also an Indigenous MD student at uOttawa.

Each mentee is paired with a medical student, medical resident or physician faculty member at the Faculty of Medicine from whom they will receive longitudinal mentorship in the years leading up to applying for medical school.

Mentors will assist mentees with their CVs, interview preparation, tips for the MCAT, and provide insight on important things that medical schools look for on applications (e.g. volunteer experience, extra-curricular activites and work experience), as well as lead an Indigenous-related social outing in the community.

The program also provides new Indigenous undergrads with support on the transition to university life, strategies to cope with academic workloads, as well as tips for maintaining personal wellness. 

“This program is a great opportunity for mentors to inspire and support Indigenous students in following their own path, studying well and achieving their career goals," says Dr. Kitty. 

Undergraduate Medical Education

Mentorship opportunities are available to MD students through the Student Affairs Office for Undergraduate Medical Education, where resources are available for health and wellness, career advice, financial guidance and personal advocacy.

In addition, the Student Mentoring Centre offers support for first-year MD students with developing new learning strategies for success in their medical studies. The Centre is a student-led initiative where the mentors are second-year students who have been trained to provide guidance and academic support. 

Postgraduate Medical Education

Many Postgraduate Medical Education programs at the Faculty of Medicine offer mentorship opportunities for medical residents and fellows, such as in the departments of Psychiatry, Internal Medicine, Family Medicine and Surgery to name a few. Each mentorship opportunity is unique to its specialty, sub-speciality or fellowship programs.

Stay-tuned next month for Part 2 of our mentorship series, which will be a story on mentoring opportunities for Faculty members. 




Back to top