Admissions blog: Spotlight on the MCAT Student Support Program
The Community of Support is a program created by the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine focused on increasing the number of students that are Indigenous, Black and economically disadvantaged in the MD program. Over the next few weeks, the admissions blog will highlight interviews with medical students who have helped create aspects of the Community of Support or volunteered their time with the Community of Support.
This blog post is a reflection by Priya Dhir, a first-year MD student at the University of Toronto and a Mentor for the Community of Support Program.
There is a growing body of literature that suggests diversity in medicine results in better health outcomes. As Canada’s population continues to become increasingly multicultural, the promotion of various ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups to the field of medicine is essential. However, systemic barriers, such as the high costs associated with medical school applications discourage students from underrepresented communities in applying. The first-ever MCAT Student Support Program (MSSP) at the University of Toronto aimed to alleviate some of these obstacles by offering a free MCAT prep course for high potential, low-income students predominantly from underrepresented groups.
After hearing about MSSP, I was very excited to get involved. I was one of the three facilitators for the course. I held classes twice a week for the Biology/Biochemistry and Psychology/Sociology sections and taught fundamental knowledge in these subjects combined with strategies for tackling passages. I also proctored students as they completed full length MCAT tests at several points throughout the course. Our goal was to assist students in learning how to work efficiently under timed conditions and build stamina for test day.
One unique aspect of MSSP was that it was largely student-driven. All course facilitators included the students in planning and implementing the course material. This ensured that students' interests and needs were put first and allowed them to be active participants in their own learning. We wanted students to feel adequately prepared for the MCAT and also wanted to ensure that we enabled lifelong learning and independent problem-solving, crucial qualities for future healthcare providers.
The final responses from the students have been very positive. All students agreed or strongly agreed that MSSP eased the financial burden associated with writing the MCAT. Our preliminary findings also suggest that there was a significant improvement in full length test scores from baseline. Students also reported that the course helped them learn about test taking strategies and increased their confidence.
With the first MSSP program now complete, I can truly say that my involvement has been undeniably transformative. I saw myself and the experiences I had in the lives of these students. I was the first in my family to pursue a post-secondary education. I worked various jobs in different industries including fast food, general labour, and telemarketing throughout high school and undergrad to fund my education. Approximately two-thirds of the MSSP students were employed full-time throughout the duration of MSSP. More than half of the students were the first in their family to pursue a career in medicine. It was after seeing these parallels when I realized that we had created more than a free MCAT prep course -- we had created a platform for students to motivate, inspire and learn from each other.
I am where I am today thanks to those mentors who challenged my views, showed me unexpected ideas, and opened doors that I did not even know existed. This is why I am passionate about decreasing barriers to education and strongly believe that mentorship plays an important role in this. I am grateful that MSSP provided an opportunity to work with a motivated group of students. It was through the narratives the students shared with me that I learned about courage, struggle and hope. I look forward to continuing to work with the Community of Support as I take my first steps towards my career in medicine.