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#UofTBackToSchool: First-year student says a U of T mentorship program helped her find her niche

Janielle Palmer is all smiles on her first day of class at U of T (photo by Hannah James)

"It was pretty cool. They showed us a lot of jobs you don't hear about in medicine"

Janielle Palmer says when it comes to getting top marks at school, she’s always been a bit of a natural.

But she was stumped when it came to applying to university and having to decide what to study.

“I was having a trouble deciding between medicine and business,” says Palmer.

Her guidance counsellor recommended U of T’s summer mentorship program in the Faculty of Medicine, offered to high school students of Indigenous and African ancestry. Palmer credits the program with helping her chart the course from high school to where she is now – living at U of T as a first-year student at Rotman Commerce.

Palmer made the trip every day from Ajax, Ont. to attend the summer mentorship program on the downtown Toronto campus in July 2016. Sixty students received hands-on experience in emergency medicine and laboratories, as well as the opportunity to meet some of Canada's top physicians.

“Up to that point I didn’t really have any science background or any way to get experience in that field,” says Palmer.

La Toya Dennie, the program's outreach co-ordinator, says that mentees get a high school credit for completing the summer mentorship program, but most teens who take the course say they are motivated by the chance to meet health care professionals and try out life on campus.

"If it wasn't for this opportunity, they wouldn't be able to engage with some of the professionals they've met," says Dennie, who has been with the program since 2012.

Palmer says the mentors exposed her to programs and health careers she didn't even know existed. Students spent time with top physicians such as Dr. Anna Jarvis, a retired staff physician in the division of paediatric emergency medicine at SickKids and professor emerita at U of T's Faculty of Medicine; Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong, a senior consulting physician at the University Health Network and professor of medicine at U of T; and Dr. Onye Nnorom, a lecturer at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the department of family and community medicine.

They also met former participants of the summer mentorship program, including chiropractor Joel Kerr and Marilyn Kusi-Achampong, who has a master's degree in public health from U of T.

In the end, Palmer chose to study business, but says she sees herself working in the health field in some capacity, possibly in health policy work or as an international human rights lawyer helping people access medicine. She's already thinking about how to gain more international experience and wants to test out clubs like U of T's United Nations Society

“As for the whole university experience, it seemed like it was more attainable and wasn’t something so outlandishly difficult,” says Palmer, reflecting on how the summer mentorship program helped her to feel more comfortable in a university setting.

“It seemed like something I could achieve and do well in.”

Applications for the 2018 summer mentorship program will be accepted this fall.