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  • Aboriginal high school students visit the Island Medical Program

    Jul 26, 2017 | Posted by: Rhys Mahannah


    In the middle of a hot week in July, the University of Victoria eagerly met with the next generation of Aboriginal university students – and, possibly, some future members of the UBC Island Medical Program.

    Every year, the UVic Indigenous Mini-University Summer Camp, otherwise known as MiniU, invites BC Aboriginal youth from grades eight to twelve to UVic’s campus, where they learn more about what post-secondary education can offer them.

    “We have Aboriginal students from all walks of life,” said Ricky-Lee Watts, who’s worked as a MiniU chaperone for the last four years. “Some students are confident about going to university; others aren’t interested. Some don’t think about it – they don’t believe they can make it. We want to show the students that, if they’re determined, they can get into, and succeed in, university.”

    On Tuesday, July 11, the students gathered in the First Peoples House, on UVic’s campus, for a career fair-style event. Here, they talked with faculty, staff, and students from various university programs, including the Island Medical Program.

    The next morning, the students stopped by UVic’s Medical Sciences Building, where first- and second-year IMP students spend the bulk of their time. Kurt McBurney, an IMP Assistant Teaching Professor, took the MiniU group upstairs to see a state-of-the-art multi-purpose lab, where they also got some hands-on time with, and learned more about, the human skeleton.

    Then they joined Rhys Mahannah, the IMP’s Admissions and Communications Coordinator, for a presentation about the UBC MD Undergraduate Program – including its requirements and an overview of its curriculum – in one of the MSB’s high-tech lecture halls.

    Mahannah presented on behalf of James Andrew, the Aboriginal Student Initiatives Coordinator for the UBC Faculty of Medicine. Andrew travels across BC and Canada to connect with Aboriginal students, introduce them to the MD Undergraduate Program through workshops, events, and presentations.

    While he wasn’t able to present at this year’s event, Andrew did talk about the lack of Aboriginal doctors in Canada, and why it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

    “Of all the doctors in Canada, only 300 are Aboriginal, which is less than 1%,” said Andrews. “BC First Nations need Aboriginal doctors who can meld medical knowledge with the social and cultural knowledge of their communities. This is crucial to providing quality care.”

    BC and Canada still have a long way to go to address this shortage, said Andrew. But the UBC Faculty of Medicine is committed to increasing the number of Aboriginal doctors.

    “The Faculty is very proud of its Aboriginal program,” said Andrew. “It’s considered, across the country, to be a leading institution in recruiting and supporting Aboriginal medical students.”

    One eager future med student is Bryna LaPlonte, a MiniU participant from Abbotsford, BC, who’s heading into grade twelve. LaPlonte figured she’d have to go to McGill or UBC to achieve her dream of becoming a pediatrician. Then she learned she could get an MD with the Island Medical Program, which delivers the UBC MD Undergraduate Program in partnership with UVic.

    After I found that out, at the career fair, I had to text my mom,” said LaPlonte. “I told her, ‘I found my school. I know where I’m going to university!’”

    “It was amazing to discover that I could study medicine at UVic,” continued LaPlonte, whose first choice for her undergraduate degree is UVic. “It’s so great to know that I can study what I want in a place – Vancouver Island – that I love.”


    As of 2017, the UBC MD Undergraduate Program has graduated 71 Aboriginal doctors. UBC originally set a goal, in 2002, to graduate 50 Aboriginal students by 2020. That goal was reached in May 2015 – five years ahead of schedule. Learn more about this important milestone at: http://www.med.ubc.ca/ubc-aboriginal-md-program-meets-goal-five-years-ahead-of-schedule/