By RON FANFAIR
When Jason Holmes was in Grade Nine, he read prominent Black American neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands.
“That was the start of my journey into science,” Holmes told this year’s University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine summer mentorship program graduates recently. “I started doing research and talking to any doctor I came across. I was in your position not too long ago and anything you want to do is possible.”
Holmes, who participated in the program six years ago while he was a student at Markham District High School, graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from McMaster University and is now enrolled at Penn State College of Medicine.
He said the annual one-month mentorship program for Black and Aboriginal high school students opened many doors for him.
“It introduced me to mentors that I am still in contact with and other Black students who are also striving for success,” he said. “There were not many students at my high school that looked like me. I was able to interact with people in this program who had a keen interest in the medical field like I did.”
A total of 47 students from York Region and Toronto Catholic and District School Boards and the Matawa First Nations Reserve in northwestern Ontario took part in last month’s program that provides students with a high school co-op credit and the opportunity to reach maximum levels of academic achievement.
Students were assigned to hospitals and provided with opportunities to interact with graduates and students in health care programs.
“I did Biology in Grade 11 and I found the subject very boring because I was limited to what I was taught by my teachers, which was not enough,” said Chadell Phillip. “This was a hands-on program which was great because we got to touch and feel things like specimens and we met interesting people we could relate to and who give us sound advice. I am returning to school much wiser with the benefit of many valuable lessons.”
Fellow student Howard Shaw agreed.
“I met many amazing and interesting people in the program. Looking back, I am quite glad that I enrolled because, in the beginning, I thought I might have been better off staying at home lying in bed and watching TV. Now I want to be the biggest nerd and I mean that in a good way,” he said.
U of T Dean of Medicine and Vice Provost Dr. Catharine Whiteside thanked the students for taking a month out of their summer break to take part in the program.
“I truly believe that you are the leaders of tomorrow,” she said. “Wherever your path takes you, I know that you will become inspiring leaders and I hope this experience this summer would have helped you greatly.”
The summer mentorship program chair, Diana Alli, said the program is designed to provide a focus for students with both an interest and aptitude for the sciences and particularly for those who otherwise would not have the mentorship opportunities available.
“The intention is to establish mentorships to keep the flames of inquiry and aspiration burning intensely and to provide adequate counseling to ensure that all the milestones on the long road to medicine in particular and other fields in the health sciences are understood and met,” said Alli, who is also the senior officer for Student Services, Community Partnerships and Student Life at the U of T.