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University of Alberta medical school changes 30-year admissions policy on Indigenous applicants

The seventh annual Health Sciences Careers Academy for Indigenous Youth is held at the University of Alberta, Tues., Aug. 21, 2018.
The seventh annual Health Sciences Careers Academy for Indigenous Youth is held at the University of Alberta, Tues., Aug. 21, 2018. Paul Rampersaud, Global News

The University of Alberta said it is eliminating a quota system that caps the number of Indigenous students admitted to its medical school each year.

A new admissions policy will allow all Indigenous students who meet eligibility requirements to be admitted to the university’s medical school.

READ MORE: Alberta Indigenous students learning about health-care careers

For the past 30 years, the medical school program held five spots per academic year for Indigenous students as long as they met eligibility requirements. The U of A said the quota was originally established to address the under-representation of Indigenous peoples in health professions. It was intended to ensure at least five Indigenous students per year were accepted into the medical program. Lately, though, it’s become more of a limitation and needed to be changed.

“Thirty years ago, Indigenous post-secondary enrolment was nowhere near where it is now so holding five spots out of the total M.D. program seat allotment was a meaningful measure,” said Tibetha Kemble, director of the Indigenous Health Initiative Program in the university’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

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“Over time, this once-meaningful measure became a limitation.

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“With the national conversation focused around reconciliation, it was important for us to take a closer look at ways to advance the calls to action in ways that moved beyond incrementalism.”

READ MORE: University of Alberta launches pilot program offering hands-on education to aboriginal youth

The university’s medical school said Indigenous students applying for the program are considered in the same way as other students: applicants must meet the minimum academic eligibility requirements, submit a secondary medicine application and complete an online assessment.

However, unlike non-Indigenous students, Indigenous applicants then undergo an additional interview with a panel of elders and Indigenous community members and physicians. The subcommittee then makes recommendations to the medical school admissions committee.

The university said the medical school will also award four new full-tuition scholarships to incoming Indigenous students.

“This is a step forward to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, specifically number 23, which calls on all levels of government to increase the number of Indigenous professionals working in the health-care field,” said Vice-Dean of Education Shirley Schipper.

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The school offered further clarity on the change Thursday in an email:

“The University of Alberta is eliminating a quota system that limited the number of Indigenous students admitted to its MD program through the Indigenous Health Initiatives Program (IHIP) process.

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“During the next admissions application cycle, starting in fall 2019, all Indigenous students who meet all eligibility requirements through IHIP will be offered a place in the medical school. The faculty previously held an upper limit of five Indigenous students admitted to the MD program per year through the IHIP process. Indigenous applicants could also apply and be accepted through the regular stream. The medical school accepts 165 new students every year and receives well over 1,400 applications.”

Kemble said a history of policies in Canada has affected the Indigenous community’s experience with the health system. She used the 1880 amendment to the Indian Act as an example of how Canadian medical schools helped to assimilate Indigenous peoples.

“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,” Kemble said.

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She said more Indigenous physicians are critical in closing the gap between Indigenous people and other Canadians because they understand the lived reality of Indigenous patients and are able to provide them with “culturally safe care.”

Kemble wants other U of A faculties and medical schools across Canada to make similar admission changes.

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