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Reducing barriers to medical education

The Queen’s School of Medicine is increasing efforts to recruit Black and Indigenous students.

Photo of the Queen's School of Medicine building
This change to the QuARMS pathway is part of the work that the Faculty of Health Sciences is doing to make health professions education more accessible to historically underrepresented groups.

Queen’s University is working to reduce systemic barriers to medical education by allocating 10 of its 100 seats in each class of its MD program to Black and Indigenous students, starting with the 2020-2021 undergraduate application cycle. These 10 seats will be made available through the Queen’s University Accelerated Route to Medical School (QuARMS) pathway, which was launched in 2012.

“Queen’s recognizes that Indigenous peoples and Black Canadians have been historically underrepresented in the medical profession, and that standard medical admissions practices have imposed barriers to these groups. With this new approach to the QuARMS pathway, we are hoping to reach individuals who may not have considered Queen’s or the medical profession otherwise,” says Jane Philpott, Dean, Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences. “Our faculty aims to become a leader in Canada in cultural safety, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, and anti-oppression in health professions education. There is a large body of work to be done and this is one important step toward making a Queen’s health professions education more accessible.”

The only pathway of its kind in Canada, QuARMS recruits 10 students from across Canada each year to attend the Queen’s School of Medicine on an accelerated track. These students spend two years as undergraduates at Queen’s. Then, rather than take qualifying examinations such as the MCAT, which are part of the standard admissions process, they enter the four-year MD program in the Queen’s School of Medicine, provided they meet the pre-determined entrance criteria for QuARMS students.

Previously, QuARMS had been open to all graduating high-school students. Now these seats will be reserved for Indigenous peoples and Black Canadians. These seats are in addition to the four seats in the MD program that are designated, through the standard admissions process, for Indigenous students each year.

“When QuARMS was launched, it was designed both to attract exceptional students to Queen’s and as a pathway for students who face financial, systemic or social barriers to entering medicine through the traditional medical school application process. This change to the pathway is very much in keeping with its original vision of bringing students from underrepresented groups to Queen’s,” says Hugh MacDonald, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Queen’s School of Medicine. “In order to further reduce barriers, we are also actively exploring options to provide financial support to QuARMS students.”

The QuARMS pathway enables students to use their two years as undergraduates to focus on taking a broad range of courses before they transition into medical school in their third year at Queen’s.

“QuARMS students often become a tight-knit group and there are already mentorship structures in place to facilitate a smooth transition. We believe that the pathway is well-equipped to provide the community and support that students from underrepresented groups might look for in medical school,” says Dr. MacDonald.

The current cohort of medical students helped to inform discussions that led to this decision through a report written by the Aesculapian Society, the student government for the School of Medicine.

“Our students deserve credit for raising issues regarding diversity and inclusion with the administration and advocating for change,” says Dr. MacDonald. “Our admissions committee is listening to our students and will continue to identify changes to the standard admissions process that will reduce barriers.”

This decision is one part of the ongoing work the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) has underway to reduce barriers to education. Dean Philpott has recently announced that she is forming the Dean’s Action Table on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. This table will be comprised of students, staff, and faculty from all three schools in FHS: the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, and the School of Rehabilitation Therapy. The table will develop and implement a comprehensive suite of reforms across FHS in areas such as recruitment, mentorship and support, and curriculum.

To learn more, see the QuARMS website.