Having grown up in rural Ontario, Curtis Jeffrey knows first-hand the challenges some communities have gaining access to health services.
It was that challenge that made him want to study medicine. And it also motivated him to want to learn more about the science of health equity.
Jeffrey is one of two students at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry taking part in MD+, a novel initiative that offers students the opportunity to pursue professional and graduate training while completing their medical degrees.
In addition to earning an MD, Jeffrey is on track to earn a master’s of science in epidemiology and biostatistics.
Fellow student Temitope (Temi) Akintola is also pursuing the same two degrees.
A passion for rural medicine
“When you live in rural areas you have reduced access to some services that those in urban centres may take for granted. One of the most important resources that can be limited in these communities is medicine,” Jeffrey said. “For many years my family, as well as many others in the community, were on a waitlist to get a general practitioner. This shortage in providers forced us to rely on walk-in clinics for our health needs.”
In addition, many rural communities rely on locum healthcare workers to provide sufficient care, so there is not always a long-term commitment to the patient population. As a result, patients with chronic illnesses can suffer from discontinuous care. Those requiring specialized treatment may need to travel to larger cities such as London.
“I believe that research in the field of rural health equity can help policymakers devise strategies to dismantle some of the ingrained systems of inequity we have in health care. This sentiment is my main motivation for participating in the MD+ program and for my thesis, which addresses current access to safe, equitable surgery for rural Ontarians.”
The MD+ program offers medical students four different pathways to pursue a master’s degree or certificate in a wide variety of subjects. Each pathway offers different learning models and focuses on unique program areas. At the end of four or five years of study, depending on the option the student chooses, they will graduate with two degrees.
A focus on vulnerable populations
Akintola decided to participate in MD+ to help her gain the tools to conduct health research when she becomes a practicing physician. Her focus is on vulnerable populations and communities with health disparities, which aligns well with the epidemiology program and her personal and professional goals and values.
“Being a woman of colour, I’ve seen the disparities in health research related to people of colour and communities as well as the under-representation of people of colour doing health care research.”
“MD+ will enhance my training by pushing me to be more adaptable in my learning. I do think it will be a challenging program, but I’m excited for the opportunity to be challenged and learn in a new and different way,” she said. “I think completing the master’s program at this point in my training will enable me to build on the knowledge and experience I gain during the remainder of my time in medical school.”
Dr. Shannon Venance, vice-dean of undergraduate medical education at Schulich Medicine, said she’s excited about the opportunities ahead for the program’s students.
“Temi and Curtis are already passionate advocates for health equity. Their MD+ track experience will solidify their roles as leaders and change-makers.”