December 21, 2020

On December 5th, 2020, the Black Physicians Association of Ontario (BPAO) learned of Ms. Noroh Dakim’s financial challenges.  Ms. Dakim is an international student of Nigerian origin and second-year medical student at University of Toronto Temerty Faculty of Medicine.  It is BPAO’s understanding that Ms. Dakim was advised to pay a proportion of her outstanding medical school tuition fees – $89,376 (of the $134,787.11 total) by December 11th, 2020 – or take an undefined leave of absence from her medical studies.  BPAO is concerned that Ms. Dakim’s situation escalated to the point of requiring a crowdfunding campaign.  It is very disappointing that in spite of her personal circumstances, Ms. Dakim could not find internal support from within the Temerty Faculty of Medicine to devise a plan to manage her financial obligation during a global pandemic.

Ms. Dakim is a Black medical student. The BPAO has a mandate to “build, cultivate, and prepare an engaged community of training Black physicians”, including ensuring there is an equitable representation of Black people in the field of medicine, since we have been historically under-represented. Hence, news of Ms. Dakim’s predicament has raised a number of concerns within the Black medical community and the broader community; this issue must be addressed.

The BPAO acknowledges the financial and personal expense and planning that international medical students must commit to when studying in Canada.  The BPAO also acknowledges the unmeasurable uncertainty and disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic has created since the beginning of 2020.  This pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for Canadian and international medical students alike, and Ms. Dakim’s experience has revealed systemic shortfalls within the Temerty Faculty of Medicine’s international student recruitment and retention process that require a holistic restructuring.

As part of its strategic mandate and academic mission, the University of Toronto (Tri-campus) has prioritized expanding its number of international graduate students and the University has aimed to attract more global talent to Ontario. [i],[ii]  This “brain gain”, as it has been referred to in the University of Toronto’s 2020-2025 Strategic Mandate, has bolstered the university’s reputation as a global leader in education and research and enhanced the talent and diversity of its student population.   Yet it appears that the University of Toronto raised international medical student tuition fees during  the pandemic from $84,960.00 in 2019 to 91,760.00, which appears to be in direct conflict with the University’s commitment to “the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice”.[iii]

Furthermore, through its institution of the Black Student Application Program, the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine has taken strides to distinguish itself as a leader   in eliminating systemic racism from medical student admissions and for establishing equitable Black representation among medical students and health professionals in Ontario. However, the recent details of Ms. Dakim’s case indicate that the Temerty Faculty of Medicine does not have appropriate or adequate systems in place to support Black or other international medical students like Ms. Dakim who experience unforeseen financial difficulties during their studies.

The BPAO calls upon University of Toronto Temerty Faculty of Medicine to establish appropriate and adequate systems to support and retain international medical students in the event of temporary or protracted financial hardship. In addition we recommend that international medical students should have access to counselling throughout their medical education regarding their post graduate training opportunities as they differ greatly than their Canadian counterparts.

We propose the following as potential mechanisms to support Black and other international medical students:

 

  1. The implementation of Interest free periods on tuition payments, in the event of unforeseen circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. The establishment of a dedicated liaison within the Temerty Faculty of Medicine to address financial hardship for international medical students.
  3. An expansion of the eligibility criteria for the Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship to include international medical students.
  4. The creation of dedicated financial scholarships for international medical students in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine
  5. The creation of an advisor role, to advise international medical students about their post medical education options.
  6. Greater transparency from the Temerty Faculty of Medicine in reporting on these matters to the broader Black community; specifically a town hall and/or report on the ways in which all Black medical students, including Black international medical students, are receiving the different forms of supports (guidance, mentorship, wellness resources, educational opportunities, financial advice) that they require to thrive throughout their medical journey.

 

The BPAO is eager to collaborate with the University of Toronto Temerty Faculty of Medicine to ensure Black and other international medical students are integrated, retained and supported throughout their undergraduate and postgraduate medical education. Their contribution as ambassadors of the exemplary standard set by University of Toronto to the world is immeasurable.

BPAO will continue to partner with medical organizations, medical associations, medical colleges, regulatory bodies and academic institutions to dismantle systemic inequities in medicine.  The BPAO also works in solidarity with provincial and national Black medical organizations who are also willing to contribute to this important change.  We as an organization are ready to rise to the occasion and work in partnership and collaboration with the Temerty Faculty of Medicine to advance our mutual vision for international medical students.

Prepared by: the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario

In Solidarity with:

  • Black Physicians of Canada
  • Canadian Association of Nigerian Physicians and Dentists
  • Black Opportunity Fund Healthcare Group·
  • Black Medical Students’ Association of Canada
  • Black Physicians of British Columbia
  • Black Physicians’ Association of Alberta
  • Black Medical Students’ Association, University of Toronto
  • Health Association of African Canadians
  • Black Resident Physicians of Ontario (BRPO)
  • Quebec Black Medical Association (QBMA)

 

[i] https://www.president.utoronto.ca/the-university-of-torontos-strategic-mandate-agreement-submission

[ii] https://www.ontario.ca/page/2020-2025-strategic-mandate-agreement-university-toronto

[iii] https://www.utoronto.ca/about-u-of-t/mission