Introducing SPARK: The Sunnybrook Program to Access Research Knowledge for Black and Indigenous Medical Students

Published on: Dec 22, 2021

female scientist using a microscope
Photo credit: elkor/iStockphoto

Dr. Mireille Norris knows firsthand about the unique disadvantages Black and Indigenous students experience while pursuing careers in medicine.

"I struggled as a Black woman who navigated the medical system," she says, citing isolation due to the lack of Black representation in the field as well as racism and its resulting sense of unworthiness as just a couple reasons for her challenging path. "I've been shouldering a lot more than many of my peers throughout my career, and that has affected my academic productivity."

With just over *2 per cent of Canadian physicians identifying as Black and less than **1 per cent of physicians identifying as Indigenous, similar issues continue to manifest in the newer generation of aspiring Black and Indigenous physicians.

"They really struggled with mentorship, representation, access to research and experiencing discrimination," says the geriatrician, speaking of the Black medical students she's encountered in recent years. Reflecting on their circumstances, she says, "I felt that I really needed to build the pipeline."

Introducing SPARK

After brainstorming with her colleagues and friends Dr. Jill Tinmouth and Dr. Nick Daneman, and after expedited planning and approvals, the Sunnybrook Program to Access Research Knowledge for Black and Indigenous Medical Students — also known as SPARK — was born.

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