Black medical students seek to improve health care access

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For a second year, the University of Alberta’s Black Medical Students’ Association (BMSA) hosted an open health fair in an attempt to address what it says are issues with access and representation in health care for members of Edmonton’s Black community.

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BMSA president Sahra Kaahiye said the fair is also designed for newcomers, immigrants and low-income individuals who often struggle to access health care.

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“We consider them medically underserved,” said Kaahiye. “We understand that people from these communities, either due to work, due to language barriers, due to income barriers, have less access than the average person to medical facilities.”

Those there on Sunday could speak with doctors about health concerns including dermatologists and ophthalmologists.

Kaahiye listed heart conditions, diabetes and various preventable cancers including skin, prostate, and colorectal cancers as conditions that disproportionately affect the Black community.

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She said cultural sensitivity can be key in medical care, but it can also be harder to find for many minority groups in Alberta.

“It’s really difficult to also go to a place where you don’t know if you are connecting with the person sitting across from you, if they can empathize where you come from,” he said.

“We understand that Black people in Canada are more likely to be racially profiled not just by the police, but also in other areas and systemic racism is not just confined to the United States.”

The free event also features mentorship programs intended to encourage future generations to pursue a career in health care.

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Kaahiye said while Black individuals make up about six per cent of Edmonton’s population, they represented just over one per cent of admissions to the university’s medical program, something she said the school has been working alongside the BMSA to address.

“We’ve made a lot of changes throughout the admissions process … in order to improve that representation.”

She hopes events like Sunday’s will push towards a greater Black presence within the ranks of Alberta doctors, as well as a more pro-active approach to health among the city’s minority communities.

“We want to be able to make sure that the people who are being graduated are representatives of the communities that they serve.”

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