MEDICAL EDUCATION: Innovative admissions improvements support health human resources

Guest blog by Dr. Trustin Domes, Director of Admissions

Our healthcare system is facing a human resource crisis, and this is not unique to Saskatchewan. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in our healthcare system and the additional pressures due to rapid change and significant increased demand in the post-pandemic environment continue to challenge the system. Now, more than ever, we need transformative change in order to support and bolster our front-line health human resources so we can continue to expect the high-quality care that we all depend on.

A tremendous amount of data supports strategically aligning admissions processes to achieve future human health resource outcomes. Admissions is the lifeblood of the College of Medicine and the future physician workforce of Saskatchewan. The current health human resource crisis has highlighted the importance of critically evaluating our admissions policies and outputs to ensure that the medical school is producing future physicians that will serve Saskatchewan. A data-informed and targeted approach is required to ensure that we are producing a growing and diverse physician workforce that reflects the populations that we serve. This mindful approach will ultimately lead to improved access and healthcare outcomes for everyone in the province, especially those in Indigenous and rural communities.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our college began approaching medical school admissions differently, with a stronger social accountability lens applied. The principles of equity, diversity and inclusivity have been weaved into our processes and are fundamental to the work that we do in admissions. An extensive admissions renewal process began in 2019, where substantial stakeholder engagement helped to shape our current admissions policies.

Additionally, data linking admissions variables to the practice location of more than 1,000 graduates played a significant role in shaping policies, with increased emphasis on our applicants’ connections to Saskatchewan and rural communities. The Saskatchewan connectedness index was created to increase the likelihood that we are admitting applicants who will practice in Saskatchewan in the future.

For our Indigenous applicants, we have created an Indigenous Admissions Circle process where Indigenous faculty members and learners review applicants through an Indigenous and holistic lens. The number of medical school seats devoted to the Indigenous Admissions Circle has been increased from 10 to 20 to more closely resemble the proportion of the Indigenous population and high need for more Indigenous care providers in Saskatchewan.

To address inequities in medical school admission for applicants facing socioeconomic challenges and other barriers that negatively impact admission, the Diversity and Social Accountability Admissions Program (DSAAP) was changed from an opt-in to an opt-out program. The goal is to make medical school accessible to a broader and more diverse group of applicants. To complement this, the College of Medicine is one of only two medical schools outside of Ontario to participate in the Price of a Dream program. This program provides applicant fee waivers for applicants with financial barriers.

These various changes in admissions address many of the concerns brought forward in the recent Saskatchewan Human Rights report and support further changes that address inequities in our college.

As we continue to evolve our admissions strategy, applicant recruitment has become even more important as we look to admit a diverse group of individuals from varied backgrounds. The college has recently hired Davis Frerichs to lead our recruitment efforts. Davis has been instrumental in updating our admissions website and creating new promotional materials, including 360-degree virtual tours and embedded videos that highlight our learning facilities at both the Saskatoon and Regina campuses.

The recently introduced panel interview and conversation circle process also provide the college an opportunity to showcase our people and program to applicants by including optional value-added experiences. These tremendously successful admissions events took place recently, on March 25 and 26, and I’m proud to say were the only hybrid in-person/virtual medical school interviews occurring in Canada this year.

Additionally, we have some tremendous grass-roots recruitment initiatives already occurring that target high school students. I would like to acknowledge the leadership and work of Dr. Henry Bi (anesthesia), Dr. Carla Holinaty (family medicine) and members of the Medical Education Student Group for stepping up and promoting the college, as well as medicine as a career to our youth. We look forward to collaborating with these leaders and the Saskatchewan Medical Association to further develop broader recruitment efforts, especially for youth in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

As I reflect on nearly four years as director of admissions, I’m very grateful for the incredible work and engagement from members of the admissions team and all of our volunteers. Without your commitment, the college would not be able to lead this important work. I’m proud of how far we have come with admissions renewal and I believe the future looks bright as we continue to evaluate and enhance our processes.

Let’s all be USask Med proud!