New Awards Recognize Mentorship and Equity

Sep 20, 2018

Fifteen years ago, the Faculty of Medicine held its first Education Day to recognize excellence and leadership in education. The event has grown to become an annual celebration— and this year, it expanded again with the creation of two new MD Program awards.

The Norman Rosenblum Award for Excellence in Mentorship and the Miriam Rossi Award for Health Equity in Undergraduate Medical Education were presented for the first time this spring.

The award was created in recognition of Professor Norman Rosenblum’s tenure as Associate Dean, Physician Scientist Training. Rosenblum was first appointed to the role in 2009 and is celebrated for his work mentoring MD/PhD students and developing and managing career development programs for clinician scientists. This award honours staff or faculty who demonstrate outstanding leadership and commitment to mentorship and role modelling for MD/PhD students within the Faculty.

Professors Tony Pignatiello and Melvin SilvermanProfessor Melvin Silverman, the award’s first recipient, established the MD/PhD program at U of T — and the first and largest program of its kind in Canada — in 1984. First appointed to the Department of Medicine in1971, Silverman says the medical school culture at that time had focused on training physicians. By contrast, American Ivy League schools also had an objective to train future professors of medicine. Programs like these helped inspire the program at U of T and shifted the culture.

In his early days as Founding Director of the MD/PhD program, Silverman reached out to his counterpart at the University of Pennsylvania, home to the largest program in the U.S., for guidance. He was told by the person who answered the phone, ‘we run it like a mom and pop organization’.

“That’s really the way Sandy McGugan, the administrative coordinator, and I ran the program,” recalls Silverman. “After selecting the right students, many needed counselling or help along the way. There was a constant flow of people in and out of our offices asking for advice or the complaint department. We were like a busy family — that was the most fun.”

In addition to supervising more than 20 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and teaching at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, Silverman led the MD/PhD Program for 25 years. He continues to interact with many of the program’s graduates, including several who have secured faculty positions at the university.

exciting to play a role in helping these learners secure their final status as they compete for faculty spots and once they’re faculty or in the game of getting their own grants or setting up their own practices. It’s also gratifying to see them on the wards and interact with them as colleagues,” Silverman says.

Through the new Miriam Rossi Award for Health Equity in Undergraduate Medical Education, the MD Program also recognizes commitment to diversity and health equity in undergraduate medical education.

The award is named after Dr. Miriam Rossi, a paediatrician, professor and former Associate Dean of Student Affairs at the Faculty of Medicine. Rossi was a strong advocate and mentor for minorities who inspired generations of medical students.

Rossi led several initiatives to improve diversity in the MD Program, including the creation of Summer Mentorship Program (SMP). SMP encourages young students of Black and Indigenous ancestry an opportunity to pursue careers in the health sciences. Like many of Rossi’s other contributions, SMP was developed to help improve equity in the field of medicine, health care and society as a whole.

As SMP approaches it’s 25thyear of empowering underrepresented students toward careers in medicine and health sciences, more than 900 young people have completed the program and many have become health care professionals.

Professors Tony Pignatiello and Mark HansonProfessor Mark Hanson, the award’s inaugural recipient, has worked with groups who have difficulty accessing health care throughout his career. A child and adolescent psychiatrist and member of the Department of Psychiatry, Hanson says matters of privilege and access to care have always been an important focus of his work. That interest dovetailed with the initiatives he helped advance as Associate Dean, Undergraduate Admissions and Student Financial Aid.

“I arrived at a turning point and there were meaningful efforts underway locally and nationally to make change,” Hanson recalls. When he was first appointed to the role, the Future of Medical Education in Canada report had recently been published by the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, which was working toward making medical school classes more reflective of the population’s diversity and create greater awareness of different health care needs within the population.

During his appointment, Hanson helped launch a pair of application pathways to help increase the number of medical students from two underrepresented groups, the Indigenous Student Application Program (ISAP) and the Black Student Application Program (BSAP). He also advanced the creation of the Office of Indigenous Medical Education, which provides a culturally safe space for Indigenous students in the MD Program and supports a variety of activities including outreach and curriculum and programming development.

“There were a number of MD Program faculty and staff for whom these initiatives were a focus,” says Hanson. “I give enormous credit to Ike Okafor and the work he’s done to connect with the Black Canadian students on campus. We’ve been able to communicate to students that these are meaningful changes and that we want to move forward.”

Hanson’s work has also benefitted prospective medical students across the country. His was among the voices that advocated for the creation of a fee assistance program for Canadian students in financial need writing the Medical College Admission Test.

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