spring 2009

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Attracting Aboriginal students to medicine


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Dr. Carolyn Sturge Sparkes

A program of fundamental change in medical education programs and approach to Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal health is under way in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University.

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A program of fundamental change in medical education programs and approach to Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal health is under way in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University.

An award of $187,500 over two years from the Aboriginal Health Human Resources Initiative Atlantic Region Competition will allow the Faculty of Medicine to develop a set of bridging programs, make revisions to the undergraduate medical curriculum, and reconfigure the faculty’s new master’s of public health program to ensure cultural relevance and sensitivity.

Dr. James Rourke, dean of medicine at Memorial, said this three-part program will bring Memorial to the forefront of the national effort to enhance the cultural sensitivity of health professional education and the presence of Aboriginal peoples in the country’s health professions.

Memorial’s project will involve close collaborative development with First Nations, Inuit, Métis communities and health providers throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Dr. Michael Jong, full-time clinical faculty member in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and Dr. Catherine Donovan, Division of Community Health and Humanities, are co-chairs of this project. Dr. Carolyn Sturge Sparkes has been hired as project co-ordinator.

Dr. Jong has worked for 26 years in Goose Bay, and has close ties with the Aboriginal communities of Labrador. He is in the process of broadening his connections with Aboriginal groups on the Island. Dr. Donovan led the development of the master’s in public health program, and her expertise will help revise that program as well as lead in the revisions to the medical curriculum

Dr. Sturge Sparkes has a PhD from McGill University in curriculum development and has worked with First Nations peoples in Quebec and other parts of Canada to determine ways to attract more students to pursue higher education.

At Memorial, her job will involve developing bridging programs to help the Faculty of Medicine reach out more effectively to the Aboriginal populations of the province. This includes an outreach program to increase awareness among Aboriginal high school students about the possibilities of a career in the health professions and raise their familiarity with Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine. It also includes planning to set aside two seats in the first-year medical class for Aboriginal students and the reconfiguration of the admission criteria and the interview process in order to fill those seats.

Dr. Sturge Sparkes will also be working with others on the revision of the undergraduate medical program from a culturally sensitive position, in collaboration with community partners in the province’s Aboriginal organizations. The proposed design of the new master’s of public health program will include the examination and revision of the approach and content of existing courses that are part of the program, and culturally sensitive design of all the new courses developed. The program will also be designed to include at least one practicum opportunity in a First Nations, Inuit or Métis setting.

Dr. Donovan said that in addition to the proposed design changes for Memorial’s master’s in public health program, the Faculty of Medicine has worked with the National Consortium on Aboriginal and Rural Public Health Education to adapt one or more of Memorial's graduate courses for online delivery across the country and to promote enhance access to public health education for Aboriginal students.

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