Black Health Symposium talks representation

The newly-created Black Medical Students Association (BMSA) held an event promoting representation in the medical field on the U of M Bannatyne campus Sept. 8.

Roughly 90 attendees, mostly young black students, participated in a day of keynote speakers, workshops and discussions at the Black Health Symposium.

Helen Teklemariam, a 2020 MD candidate at the Max Rady college of medicine and BMSA co-founder, said in an email that the organization’s goal is to “decrease barriers to entering a career in healthcare for the black population, particularly for black youth.”

“The black population in Manitoba has increased significantly in the past few decades, but there are still minimal black health care providers,” wrote Teklemariam.

“We aim to increase the number of black students admitted to the Rady faculty of health sciences, particularly the Max Rady college of medicine.”

The symposium featured keynote speeches by Winnipeg deputy mayor Markus Chambers, Biniam Kidane, an assistant professor in the surgery department, and Marcia Anderson, executive director of Indigenous academic affairs in the Ongomiizwin Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing.

Attendees had the opportunity to participate in workshops including an MCAT information session, a discussion on healthcare careers beyond medicine, a motivational speech for aspiring students, a leadership and volunteering talk in relation to career applications and a discussion about barriers in the medical field.

Yohanna Asghedom, a fourth-year medical student and BMSA co-founder, said last week she hoped the event will get young people excited about healthcare careers.

“We decided to put this event on because we thought it was important for younger kids, high school students, university students to kind of see others in fields that perhaps they don’t necessarily see people who look like them in,” she said.

“It’s not just about medicine, it’s about improving diversity in terms of healthcare as a whole.”

Asghedom described a distinct lack of representation within medicine and said the BMSA is aiming to encourage diversity in the field.

“When myself [and other BMSA co-founders] started medicine in 2016, we actually didn’t really see very many physicians who looked like us,” she said.

“I think I could name one or two, and now we’re getting ready to graduate in May and we can still say we don’t really see a lot of people who look too much like us, either.

“So noticing this lack of improvement in diversity — especially for black people particularly — it’s important for us to try to inspire the youth and do what we can right now.”

Ted Mokonnen, a medical student interested in a career in physical therapy, attended the event looking for career guidance.

“I attended today’s event mostly for guidance, definitely for the fact that I don’t see a lot of representation in my shade of skin in the medical field,” he said.

“But another aspect of why I wanted to come was just for, I guess the mechanics, the workings, how applications work, and just guidance in the route to get to where I want to be.”

Aleena Okbay, a U of M medical student, said she is also concerned about representation and how it directly affects students in the field.

“What they said today in this lecture, they were saying how you kind of keep yourself in this mental prison of thinking you’re not capable, or maybe there’s something innate and wrong with you,” she said.

“You kind of believe there’s a disadvantage about yourself.

“But you need to understand that you should be proud to be black, and that’s definitely an advantage, and you’re definitely just as capable as everyone else.”