Venture Healthcare Comes Full Circle

Illustration of a woman dressed casually looking into a mirror, where she sees herself as a doctor

Stretch Experience Update: PLLC alumni and program founder hears success stories from participants

It was Yasmin Rafiei’s own journey applying to medical school that got her thinking about the barriers some applicants face.

While reviewing the myriad requirements typical of medical school applications – competitive Medical College Admission Test scores, paid employment, leadership experience, volunteer work, and a rock solid GPA – she began to wonder how people from marginalized communities would fare.

How could a student, working gruelling hours waiting tables to pay their tuition, find time to study for an admissions test, let alone scrape together the money for an expensive prep course to land a competitive score? How could a student caring for younger siblings while taking full-time classes, squeeze in volunteer shifts? How could students who didn’t see anyone from their cultural background represented in their own healthcare providers, envision themselves in those roles?

“The majority of my friends applying for medical school had never worked a service job,” says Yasmin, a Rhodes Scholar and graduate of PLLC’s inaugural class. “They weren’t necessarily stressed about some of the financial barriers to applying.”

Yasmin began researching the demographics of healthcare professionals, realizing that people from Indigenous communities and low socioeconomic backgrounds were critically underrepresented. She resolved to design a program that would open doors to healthcare professions for students from such backgrounds, creating Venture Healthcare as her Stretch Experience with PLLC.

Venture Healthcare is a paid internship program where participants shadow health professionals while also attending lecture-based learning on leadership in healthcare. The program is designed to provide participants with financial, social, and cultural capital: not just the money required to pay for test and application fees, but also the connections within and exposure to healthcare that many marginalized students lack. The program launched in the summer of 2017 as part of the Division of Community Engagement in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta.

Yasmin recalls the concluding session of that pilot year, an emotional poetry workshop facilitated by Nisha Patel, Edmonton’s current Poet Laureate.

“It was this watershed moment,” says Yasmin. “It felt like everything came together and it made sense why this was important.”

Beyond that workshop, Yasmin has seen Venture Healthcare pay off for countless participants who have been accepted into medical school, dentistry, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy programs. Recently, she received a message from one such participant.

“She said Venture Healthcare expanded her scope of what was possible,” says Yasmin. “Before she came to the internship, she’d never considered herself as being the kind of person who’d go to one of these medical programs. The premise of this initiative was to give people information – but in the process of that we were, at every point, validating that they
were worthy of being in those roles.”

This story was originally published in the 2019-20 PLLC Annual Report.

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