MD students lead initiative to give low-income and minority youth a chance at careers in medicine

Posted on Monday, July 26, 2021

Photo of the exterior of the research tower of the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine

“Currently, there are barriers to health care and medicine with under representation from racial minority groups, low-income backgrounds, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ2S+ community.”

— Farhan Mahmood (MD 2023), co-lead of the Social Accountability Student Advisory Committee in UGME. 

By Chonglu Huang

A committee of uOttawa MD students is working with community outreach organizations, such as Let's Talk Science, to make medicine and health care more accessible as career paths for youth from low-income and minority groups.  

Co-led by Farhan Mahmood (MD 2023) and Lewis Han (MD 2023), the Social Accountability Student Advisory Committee consists of six medical students who act as advisors to the undergraduate medical education (UGME) program on how to address social determinants of health, including gaps in minority and low-income representation in medicine.

Social Accountability Student Advisory Committee

Co-leads:  Farhan Mahmood (MD 2023), Lewis Han (MD 2023)

Executive members: Veronica Chan (MD 2024); Eileen Huang (MD 2024); Claudine Henoud (MD 2024); Adnan Al Adou Mekdachi (MD 2024)

Faculty support: Dr. Claire Kendall, Assistant Dean of Social Accountability; and Lois Crowe, Program Manager, Strategic Planning and Implementation

“Currently, there are barriers to health care and medicine with under representation from racial minority groups, low-income backgrounds, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ2S+ community,” said Mahmood. “One way our committee is addressing this gap is through an outreach initiative called the Healthcare Exploration Program designed to help marginalized high school and undergraduate students gain early support and knowledge about careers in health care.”

The Healthcare Exploration Program touches upon not only medicine, but also other health sector careers such as nursing, pharmacy, and social work.

It’s designed to be a pipeline program that helps minority students to overcome their social and financial barriers in their pursuit of post-secondary education related to the sciences.

For Mahmood, who comes from a low-income background himself and is the first generation from his family to attend high school, university and a professional school, this initiative strikes a personal chord.

“I was surprised to discover that the majority of medical students came from households with over 100k annual income,” said Mahmood. “Whereas, my dad is a taxi driver and my family are working class immigrants. Growing up, I didn’t feel like I had much of a chance to get into medical school, but I followed what I loved to study, got scholarships, [and] sought help from support programs. Everything fell into place based on hard work and some good luck.”

Mahmood added that it was stressful at times because he couldn’t always afford textbooks and had to seek out other resources to learn on his own. He hopes that outreach initiatives like the Healthcare Exploration Program mean that future generations of students from minority or low-income groups won’t have to depend on luck to determine their career paths. Instead, they would be well supported to pursue their dreams based on merit.

In order to build trust with these youths from marginalized communities, the Healthcare Exploration Program sought to partner with Let’s Talk Science at uOttawa who have 28 years of experience helping youth build critical skills, develop positive attitudes and gain career awareness.

“We gladly helped consult with the uOttawa MD students on ways to cultivate relationships with high school students and build a strong mentorship connection,” said Sue McKee, Director of Let’s Talk Science at uOttawa. “A relationship based on mutual dialogue and trust needs to be formed first before any group can successfully step in as mentors.”

McKee and Let’s Talk Science’s senior coordinator Amaal Abdi helped consult with the Social Accountability Student Advisory Committee to build a partnership and to review the four virtual sessions the Healthcare Exploration Program team developed covering topics like how to apply for scholarships and prepare for interviews, to a safe space discussion on barriers, prejudices and financial hardships.

Veronica Chan and Eileen Huang played key leadership and advocacy roles in consulting with McKee and Abdi, developing and facilitating successful sessions, recruiting presenters and participants, and securing funding. Mahmood explained that without his team, the launch of the Healthcare Exploration Program would not have been possible.

The ultimate goal of the Healthcare Exploration Program is to increase diversity in the Canadian health care system so that it reflects the diversifying population of Canada.

 “With greater inclusively from minorities groups that traditionally faced barriers to these professions, the aim is to deliver better quality care that accounts for cultural needs,” said Mahmood.

Recently, Mahmood and Claudine Henoud have also been working with a group called “Price for a Dream” to launch a fee waiver program for those in need of financial support when applying to Ontario medical schools. The project is in collaboration with the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) and Council of Ontario Faculties of Medicine (COFM), and can be accessed through

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The goal of the Faculty Of Medicine Social Accountability Pre-Med Bursary For Students Of Low Socio-Economic Status is to make medical school more accessible to applicants coming from homes with limited financial resources

Social Accountability Student Advisory Committee

From left to right, top row: Claudine Henoud, Farhan Mahmood, Eileen Huang.

Bottom row: Adnan El Adou Mikdashi, Veronica Chan, and Lewis Han.

Healthcare Exploration Program
Let's Talk Science Outreach logo
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