By: Mercedes Stemm, Program Assistant, Indigenous Health in Medicine, Dalhousie BSc in Neuroscience/Indigenous Studies Student
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.