Black History Month: The Continual Need for Advocacy in Medical Education

Written by Moyin Onasanya from the Black Medical Students

Before Black History Month this year, I found myself reflecting on the year 2020: a year in which an international reckoning occurred regarding the issues of institutionalized racism and anti-Black discrimination after the death of George Floyd. This event prompted policy changes in education, government, entertainment, and health care. As years have passed, in 2023, my biggest fear is that we may lose momentum for inspiring societal changes to support Black Canadians.

The Black Medical Student Association (BMSA) was formed in 2020 to create a collaborative network of black medical students across Canada. The mission was to secure equitable representation of black students in Canadian medical schools and to advocate for more inclusive medical training that equips all learners to better serve the healthcare needs of underserved black communities across Canada. The Black Medical Students’ Association USASK chapter was formed the same year with the intention of supporting the growth and vitality of the black medical students at the University of Saskatchewan.

In 2020, our founding members created the original draft of our calls to action to address institutionalized and systemic anti-Black racism within the College of Medicine. The main goals were to advocate for better Black representation within the College (including students and faculty), providing better support for Black medical students with issues such as racist mistreatment, supporting Black pre-medical students, and to increase diversity within the college curriculum. Since the creation of these calls of action, the academic board of the College of Medicine has taken action in various areas, including creating a Black physician-student mentorship program, the inclusion of diverse skin disease presentations in darker skin, the implementation of anti-bias training for students, and more. We commend the College for the work they have been able to do and the positive changes they have implemented.

In 2023, there are still ways in which we can improve to better support the Black students and the health care of Black Canadians. This includes creating greater diversity among standardized patients for student clinical learning, re-evaluating student mistreatment policies and protocols to deal with specific instances of racism, the consistent inclusion of diverse images utilized in academic lectures, the creation of a community of support for underrepresented pre-medical applicant groups, the potential creation of general application pool for Black applicants, and more.

As the years continue to pass, I hope that institutions, such as the College of Medicine, will continue to create initiatives and policies that support marginalized groups. I am proud to be a part of a group that is able to work along the College in creating an equitable future for all students, professionals, and patients in Canadian healthcare.