A 10-day tour of Scandinavian health care organizations in 2019 completely opened Western student Danilla Xing’s eyes to new possibilities.
“The biggest thing I learned was there are so many different ways of solving problems,” said Xing, now in her fifth year of a combined degree in the School of Health Studies and Ivey Business School. The trip was part of Aging Globally: Lessons from Scandinavia, a course she was interested in due to the exceptional reputation of Scandinavian health care and the opportunity to learn about it first-hand.
“We visited people who impacted the health care system from all different perspectives. We met with non-profit organizations; formal government representatives; local care homes… you just saw a diversity of thinking and ways of approaching care that were completely different.”
Xing is one of 90 Western Health Studies students who have participated in the innovative blended in-class course and international study tour led by health sciences associate professor Aleksandra Zecevic. Xing ended up returning to Denmark on her own for a two-month internship with one of the agencies she discovered on the tour.
Thanks to almost $3 million from Canada’s new Global Skills Opportunity program, 298 more Western students like Xing will have the opportunity to gain global experience – including those who have traditionally faced barriers to learning abroad.
Nearly $1 million will expand the Aging Globally: Lessons from Scandinavia initiative over the next three years by enabling 198 students to participate in the international course, internships, summer programs or academic exchanges with partners in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. Of those, more than 80 spots will be designated for Indigenous students, students with disabilities and students from low-income backgrounds.
Another $1.96 million will enhance equity, diversity, inclusion, decolonization and Indigeneity (EDI-D-I) training in the health care professions. The program – a collaboration with the University of Manitoba – is called Achieving Equity and Global EDI-D-I Competence in the Canadian Health Sector Workforce. It will support 100 students from medicine, dentistry, nursing and allied health professions to complete work placements in Uganda, Benin, Malawi, Liberia, Senegal, Rwanda and Kenya, while also gaining certification in EDI-D-I, with the goal of preparing health care professionals to work with and understand diverse populations.
“This funding allows us to greatly improve access to unique, experiential learning opportunities for equity-deserving students from under-represented groups,” said Dr. John Yoo, Dean, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “This is among the highest priorities in our five-year strategic plan.”
Launched November 3, 2021, the $95 million Global Skills Opportunity program will enable more than 16,000 Canadian college and undergraduate university students to acquire the global skills employers want and the Canadian economy needs. Western is one of 56 universities and 54 colleges to receive funding.
“The Global Skills Opportunity program is a key component of Canada’s International Education Strategy, helping to mobilize more Canadian students to go abroad,” said Lise Laporte, senior director, Western International. “Increasing access to international mobility programs is a priority, and this funding will help us create the wrap around supports that will hopefully inspire more students including those from under-represented groups, to engage in these transformative learning experiences.”
The funding for both projects will provide subsidies for these designated groups and will help to build in individual supports such as accompanying attendants for students with disabilities, or tailored, culturally relevant programming for Indigenous students.
According to Melanie Katsivo, project lead for the Achieving Equity project, and EDID specialist at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, there are many systemic and financial barriers currently for students from these underrepresented groups to participate in international learning opportunities typically available to students in the health care professions.
“Most of the students who go abroad are never fully funded. On top of that they are usually abroad in the summer. Students from low socioeconomic status, who don’t have any other means of support but to work, can’t afford to be abroad. For others, there are no accommodations, particularly for students with disabilities.” This program will help address some of those challenges, said Katsivo.
Of the 100 spaces available over the next few years in the Achieving Equity program, 60 spaces will be designated for Indigenous students, students with disabilities, and students from low-income backgrounds. Additional spaces will also be prioritized for students from the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, as well as students who are racialized and those who practice minority faith religions. The funding will also support a certificate course in EDI-D-I competencies for students in the health professions.
Schulich Medicine & Dentistry will lead the project in collaboration with the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, and Western’s Centre for Teaching and Learning. Other key local partners include Western’s Faculty of Health Sciences, the Faculty of Social Science and Western International. The team will collaborate with partner institutions in Africa to select student participants for placements beginning as early as summer 2022.
The funding for Aging Globally will have an impact immediately – with 30 students already scheduled to participate in Zecevic’s course beginning in January 2022, and a planned study tour in May/June.
For Zecevic, the new funding expands her vision for inspiring the next generation.
“I had a dream that hands-on experiential learning in the international realm was possible for health care students,” said Zecevic. “The Global Skills Opportunity funding is adding to my dream. I’m thrilled that students who traditionally haven’t had the finances to participate will now have the opportunity, and that students with disabilities now have an open door. It’s also inspiring us to create more meaningful experiences for Indigenous students as part of this program.”
As for Xing, she is excited that more students can experience learning abroad and highly recommends it to her peers. “The biggest reason to go would be to broaden your worldview because you get to see things in a really new way – and you are supported by faculty and by peers, and by leaders – so that you are able to digest it and reflect on it,” said Xing.