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Medical Mentorship: Creating Space at Dalhousie

The following article first appeared on Dalhousie University’s blog site of the Global Health Office and is shared with permission.

Kwe’! My name is Mercedes Stemm, and I’m a Mi’kmaq woman born and raised in Natoaganeg (Eel Ground) First Nation, New Brunswick. I’m in my last year of my Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Indigenous Studies. Since 2019, I have been the Program Assistant for the Indigenous Health in Medicine (IHIM) Program within the Global Health Office. In my position, I am part of many different projects, events, committees, and initiatives. In addition, I had the wonderful opportunity to create my own program. Upon arriving at the Global Health Office, the Director asked me what I believe Indigenous students interested in medicine need to succeed at Dalhousie. I was tasked to explore ideas about potential new supports and programs. After discussions with colleagues and friends, a proposal was developed to create a mentorship program. The program proposed to connect Indigenous medical and health professional students with Indigenous undergraduate students aspiring to become health professionals. After a year of planning, we were able to pilot this program in September 2020 with the Bachelor of Medical Sciences program and in collaboration with PLANS (Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians).

This pilot mentorship program is part of a larger collaboration between Dalhousie University and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). The Foundation is based in Florida but has many ties to Nova Scotia. Last year it partnered with Dalhousie on a matching gifts program to help Indigenous and Black Nova Scotian students pursue studies in health care through pathways programs. It committed to match up to $1 million in donations to Dalhousie over five years. This collaboration has allowed Dalhousie University to advance our commitment to ensuring Indigenous and African Nova Scotian students participate in education and careers in the health professions.

The creation of this Pilot Mentorship Program is to establish and enhance connections for Black and Indigenous students with other Black and Indigenous students, faculty, and/or professionals by providing guidance through academic and professional development. Increased supports have been shown to improve completion rates of programs, decrease student stress levels, and increase self-efficacy.

The main purpose of this program is to reduce and eliminate barriers to underrepresented students exploring their full potential as learners. The Faculty of Medicine was responsible for organizing the mentorship match between the student/mentee and mentor. Student mentees who were matched with a mentor were then encouraged to take leadership in the relationship to ensure that they were able to get the most value from their experience.

The pilot program consists of five undergraduate Bachelor of Medical Sciences students in their first or second year of study. They were matched with mentors in their last year of their Medical Science degree, medical students, and graduate students. The structure of the program consists of relationship building, skill-building through workshops, and celebration through events. Workshops do not only focus on skills development, but also cultural knowledge and engagement. The program has space for online discussions and reflections, and students have one-on-one time, both with mentors and program coordinators, to discuss topics and ask questions.

The overall goal of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation Mentorship program is to increase representation of Indigenous students in medicine through recruitment, community collaboration, and partnership. This mentorship program will help achieve those goals. Our hope is that students will come out of the program with lifelong connections, knowledge, and supports.

Read more about Dalhousie’s Medical Mentorship programs at the following links:

Medical Mentorship Part 1: Ottawa Supports Indigenous Student Success

Medical Mentorship Part 2: Student Perspective

Medical Mentorship Part 4: Professional and Cultural Connections


Mercedes Stemm is Program Assistant for the Indigenous Health in Medicine Program at Dalhousie University

The Importance of Professional Development Opportunities Outside the Classroom

The following article first appeared on the website of Dalhousie University’s Global Health Office, a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. It is shared here with permission. 

As a first-year speech-language pathology student, I appreciate finding different ways to learn more about the profession outside of the classroom. This year I was able to become a student with Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC). As a student associate, I am able to access a vast collection of resources related to the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology. These resources include professional development events, access to journals, and supplies for developing advocacy.

I had the privilege to attend my first professional development event on World Hearing Day (March 3). As speech-language pathologists often work closely with audiologists to assist clients, these types of opportunities allow me to gain insight into the profession. The webinar, Starting the Conversation: What the WHO World Report on Hearing Means for Canada, highlighted the importance of advocating for the hearing screening of infants, school-age children, and adults. The information shared by the presenters gave me a better understanding of the services provided by audiologists and why individuals should have their hearing checked at different phases of their lives.

With the school semester recently coming to an end, I look forward to continuing to educate myself on topics relevant to the speech-language pathology and audiology fields through events hosted by SAC. As May is Speech and Hearing Month in Canada, I hope to participate in many more opportunities that will enhance my understanding of communication health.

Finally, I can’t wait to eventually go to a SAC event in person! I am hopeful that I will be able to attend next year’s Speech-Language Pathology Conference in Vancouver, BC. This occasion would be an amazing opportunity to network and learn more about the current research pertaining to the field.

Thank you to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and the Global Health Office for helping me access professional development opportunities as I continue my studies. For more information on these opportunities please visit the Global Health Office Diversity website.


Halle Loyek is a student in the Dalhousie University School of Communication Sciences and Disorders studying Speech-Language Pathology. She is from Red Deer, Alberta.

A Personal Journey Influences a Future Path for PLANS

African Nova Scotians are a large racially visible group in Nova Scotia. The current workforce, including health care, is not representative of the diversity that exists in Nova Scotia. PLANS was established in 2013 with the goal to increase the number of African Nova Scotians within the fields of health, medicine and dentistry. PLANS works to achieve this goal through many recruitment and retention activities that aim to expose youth to the various health programs, assist with navigating the application process and provide support across their academic journey. Recently the PLANS program manager position has become a permanent position at Dalhousie University. This strengthens Dalhousie’s commitment to this program and the priorities for healthcare in the region.

The work of PLANS has been enhanced by the funding received from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, which has aided in the development of programs as well as bursaries and scholarships to reduce barriers and to increase the enrollment of Indigenous Atlantic Canadians and African Nova Scotian students who are engaged in the study of Health, Dentistry and Medicine.

How my journey informs my work with PLANS

I am very honored to be able to continue the very important work that PLANS has undertaken as the now permanent PLANS Program Manager. Having grown up in rural Nova Scotia and experiencing firsthand the barriers of navigating post-secondary, I know how important this program is. Lack of awareness of resources, limited knowledge of what programs are offered and the financial impact of attending post-secondary, especially in a new urban area can be overwhelming. Being the first in your family to attend post-secondary you don’t often have the supports or resources in place to be able to do so easily, and it can be a deterrent for many, including me. Attending university was not an immediate option for me following high school, and it required attending community college and working before I was able to pursue university myself. I reflect on the programs and initiatives that PLANS offers and the impact that it would have had on my own career progression if it had been in place at that time. This is what motivates me to ensure the work we do with PLANS has the largest reach possible to make sure we are capturing youth like myself who did not have the support or resources to navigate post-secondary. I believe that my educational and professional journey lends great insight into areas for future development. I have had the opportunity to work in varied roles within health care and to work with many others on interprofessional teams in various settings. I am able to draw upon those experiences to inform some of the programs and supports that are offered through PLANS. My experience working in community health systems as well as within the schools affords me better insight into how those areas can interact and how to best collaborate when looking to deliver programs for PLANS in the future.

The PLANS goal of creating a more diverse health care workforce has always been important to me. The ability for members of our African Nova Scotian community to feel represented and comfortable to receive health care services is important as is the importance of our youth to experience this. For our African Nova Scotian youth to be able to see themselves represented in various roles throughout the spectrum of health care (health educators, practitioners, those in leadership roles) is important to let the youth know that this career path is within their reach.

My vision for the upcoming year

The challenges of COVID-19 over the spring and into the summer has changed the way that PLANS has traditionally operated. A key component of the PLANS program has been our summer camps, which allow youth to experience the various health programs in a very experiential way. It gives them the opportunity to become familiar with some of the local universities, faculty and students, which is key to assisting potential students to feel comfortable. This year we have shifted how we engage with youth to an online virtual platform. This change affords us the option to reach more youth in ways that our traditional camps could not allow. In the upcoming year I look forward to the opportunities for growth and reinvention that this change has brought. My passion has always centered around providing opportunities to African Nova Scotian youth in rural areas, and my continued goal is to identify additional and innovative ways that PLANS can engage and support these youth. I am excited to continue the work of PLANS and look forward to many of the upcoming projects and collaborations PLANS has in the upcoming year. I am so thankful that I get to be a small part of a students’ journey and to be able to support their educational goals.

PLANS seeks to increase representation of African Nova Scotians in the health professions through recruitment and retention, community collaborations and partnerships to improve health outcomes within the African Nova Scotian community. PLANS offers programming, provides resources, and attends community and school events to provide health career support and preparation. Learn more here!

New Camp Reaches Indigenous High School Students

Dalhousie University’s Indigenous Health Program works with school boards and organizations (including the Johnson Scholarship Foundation) to increase recruitment and retention of Indigenous students into medicine. As part of the program, the first Kitpu Wise camp was offered this spring in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Student wearing a mask and working on a disk

Students gained experience in the medical field during the Kitpu Wise camp. Photo courtesy of Dalhousie University.

The camp focused on learning about health careers and postsecondary life while meeting new friends and having fun. Students aged 15-18 spent a week on campus receiving hands-on exposure to clinical health education programs and cultural experiences.

The students also met the incoming Dalhousie University student union president who is the first Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) student to hold this position. In addition, the students presented handmade drums to the Deans of Medicine, Dentistry and Health.

Here is what student Kayla Steeves had to say about the week she spent learning about health:

In March 2018, I spent a week in Halifax attending the Kitpu Wise camp. It was one of the most influential and fun encounters that I have had the pleasure of experiencing as a high school student. I met a wonderful group of students and faculty, participated in intriguing activities, and learned amazing things.

Students making drums using traditional methods

Students also enjoyed cultural experiences, such as making drums using traditional methods. Photo courtesy of Dalhousie University.

Throughout the week, we did activities that taught us more about our Indigenous heritage, as well as aspects of the medical field. We made drums, shadowed a dentist during a real appointment with a patient, filled a cavity on false teeth in the dental simulation lab, as well as completed a certified first aid course.

My personal favorite activity was shadowing a last year dental student. I observed the interactions between a physician and patient, as well as viewed the techniques used to solve the issue. It was a different and fascinating view into what a job in the medical field would look like.

The information I have taken away from attending Kitpu Wise are resources and facts that I will forever hold onto. I cannot thank enough the brilliant people who put this program together for the knowledge and opportunities they have gifted me.

Kayla Steeves is a grade 12 student who participated in the Kitpu Wise camp in Halifax, Nova Scotia, during her March break. She will be joining Dalhousie University in September 2018.

Health Events Among Highlights of African Heritage Month at Dalhousie

In 1988, Nova Scotia first recognized Black History Month. Thirty years later the tradition continues with African Heritage Month being recognized and celebrated in communities, by organizations and in our postsecondary institutions across the province.

Flag raising Dalhousie 2018

Photos: Dalhousie University

On Feb. 1, Dalhousie University launched a month of events with the raising of the Pan-African (or Marcus Garvey) flag to reflect and honour this year’s theme of “BLACK EXCELLENCE: COMMUNITY TO ACADEMIA.”

Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) was recognized for its dedication and contribution to the success of Black students in health, among other pioneering pathway programs such as Dalhousie’s Transition Year Program, Indigenous Black & Mi’kmaq Initiative (in law school), Black Educators Association’s Math Camp and Imhotep’s Legacy Academy.

Woman sitting in a chair in front of bannerIn keeping with the theme of Black Excellence, PLANS joined the Africentric Learning Institute and the Health Association of African Canadians in welcoming Dr. Clotilda Yakimchuk to share her story to the community and aspiring nurses as one of Nova Scotia’s first Black nurses.

Dr. Yakimchuk shared stories of her journey – from failing grade seven and taking that as a lesson to work hard, facing racism and standing strong as patients refused to be cared by a Black woman, and being elected the first Black president of the Registered Nurses Association in Nova Scotia in its 100-year history.  During her training, Dr. Yakimchuk did not see many others that looked like her, but was pleased to hear that more students of African descent are considering the nursing profession – one she enjoyed very much.  It was a pleasure to sit with Dr. Yakimchuk and she is an inspiration to all.

To close the month, PLANS is supporting Black health events with the student-led groups: Atlantic Association of Aspiring Black Physicians, Community of Black Students in Nursing, and Health Association of African Canadian-Student Organization as they aim to educate, build community and strive for excellence within themselves.

Students at Dalhousie summer campPLANS is now recruiting youth for its summer programming which has grown with support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. In its fifth year, the African Nova Scotian Health Science Summer Camp will see students from across Nova Scotia learn more about postsecondary options, health careers and meet new friends as the camps are held at three Nova Scotian universities.

Michelle Patrick is the program manager for Promoting Leadership in Health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) – supporting people of African descent on their journey to education and a career in health. Her favorite PLANS program is the African Nova Scotian Health Science Summer Camp that has expanded to more institutions across Nova Scotia and is reaching an increasing number of youth. She is a community volunteer with the Health Association of African Canadians and the Community Health Board.

Diversity in Health Professions: 3 Ways Dalhousie is Looking to the Future

Graduation season may be over, but here at the Johnson Scholarship Foundation we’re still enjoying the many stories we hear about students whose lives were transformed because of the scholarships, programs and organizations that we help to fund.

young woman looking through microscopeAs the newest member of the JSF team, I was excited to hear about a milestone for our grantee partner Dalhousie University. The school recently celebrated the graduation of its largest-ever class of medical doctors of African descent.

These six students (with another cohort of six coming up behind them) received help along their educational journey from the university’s Promoting Leadership in Health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) program.

JSF is a supporter of PLANS, as well as the Indigenous Health Programs at Dalhousie. Over the course of our five-year partnership, which began in 2015, JSF is committed to matching up to $1 million raised by the University.

These programs employ a multifaceted approach to increase the representation of traditionally marginalized groups in the health professions. One way they are accomplishing this is by realizing that reaching students starts early.

two students and a teacher wearing a lab coat and masksIn a blog post for JSF earlier this year, Shawna O’Hearn with Dalhousie’s Global Health Office reported on the PLANS summer camp program that introduces African Nova Scotian high school students to health professions.

The camp has become so popular that it has expanded to accommodate more students. The first of three camp sessions begins next week at Dalhousie’s campus in Halifax. Two others are planned over the following two weeks, one at Cape Breton University in Sydney and one at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.

The faculty and staff at Dalhousie know that many of these students will need extra support when they reach college. To this end, the first-ever PLANS Prep Institute began earlier this week and concludes on Saturday.

Young woman sitting at desk with a welcome to summer camp sign

The institute is designed to help students entering college to develop the skills they need and ease the transition from high school. Throughout the academic year students also can receive mentorship and academic support through PLANS.

PLANS is similar to other successful programs that support disadvantaged students in that it recognizes that mentors and role models are important. Several African-descended students in the three health faculties at Dalhousie are choosing to help younger students by serving as camp counselors. Current students serve as mentors to high school students during the school year.

back of a tshirt with logos on it

The camps and the PLANS Prep Institute are a part of a much larger effort, of course. Projects are also underway to introduce Indigenous students to the growing healthcare field.

By looking to the future, Dalhousie is poised to have a tremendous impact on increasing diversity in the health professions. We look forward to hearing about more of those stories in the years to come.