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HomeNewsCampusA VOLUNTEER’S STORY: Black professionals mold future Black physicians and healthcare workers

A VOLUNTEER’S STORY: Black professionals mold future Black physicians and healthcare workers

Editor’s note: According to Volunteer Canada, International Volunteer Day takes place every year on Dec. 5 to shine a light on the impact of volunteer efforts everywhere. The Chronicle is proud to tell the story of community volunteers.

From a club at Ontario Tech University (OTU) to a community organization, Black Physicians of Tomorrow (BPT) is providing opportunities in the health and medicine fields by tutoring and supporting black youth in the community.

One of BPT’s founders, Phillippa Beaden, 28, was a nursing student attending OTU in 2012 and recalls rarely seeing a Black doctor in a hospital during her school placements or on the job.

Philippa Beaden, one of BPT's three founders and graduate of UOIT.
Philippa Beaden, one of BPT's three founders and graduate of UOIT (now called Ontario Tech University). Photo credit: Courtesy of Black Physicians of Tomorrow

This prompted Beaden and other Black and Afro-Caribbean students who studied healthcare at OTU and Durham College to start BPT in 2015.

One of their first events was getting Black students in health-related programs and Black medical professionals together to learn how to get into the profession. Through BPT’s events, about 15 students were able to build resources and connections within the field.

“There’s lack of representation across the board in Canada for Black healthcare professionals, especially in Durham,” says Michelle De Lyon, 34, who joined BPT at its beginning stages while attending Durham College (DC) in 2015. De Lyon arrived at DC with a degree in Psychology and Sociology.

Michelle De Lyon, one of BPT's Board of Directors.
Michelle De Lyon, a member of BPT's Board of Directors and graduate of Durham College. Photo credit: Courtesy of Black Physicians of Tomorrow

“I was just very interested in the medical profession, just anything that can help, like me and my people, get ahead.”

De Lyon says as a minority she didn’t receive support while trying to get into the healthcare field. She says her high school teacher doubted her abilities to become a doctor.

“I didn’t fully pursue [a career in psychology] because life came in the way, but I’m really happy that I’ll be a part of helping other students become doctors or medical professionals,” says De Lyon. “I think that’s just like what’s going to change the world little by little.”

BPT became a community-based organization after successfully obtaining the Youth Opportunities grant through the Ontario government to run a tutoring and mentorship program for high school students in the Ajax/Pickering area in 2017.

De Lyon says there was an idea to create an app or an online platform for Black students to connect with medical professionals as mentors, similar to what they did in school, and has built those opportunities with BPT’s tutoring service, STEMWORKS.

STEMWORKS focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“[We have] high school students from Grades 7-12, providing homework assignments or if they need to review something, it can be science, English, [or] math,” says Beaden.

BPT aligns four to 20 of its students with one of its 15 tutors to give them the support to pursue their goals by providing guidance.

“[Students who attend BPT] are there and they are willing and eager to learn whatever it is that they came with and that the parents are also following them,” says Beaden.

Judith Serguson-Anderson is one of those parents.

Her son is a Grade 10 student who enjoyed most aspects of the tutoring sessions with math and science and sees an improvement with his studies in school.

“I just like the idea of having persons who you can culturally relate to,” says Serguson-Anderson.

“The program was not just only academia, they had social life skills aspects that were included.”

BPT helps students with skills like finances and relations with family and friends because “that also impacts the academic journey,” says Beaden.

“We want to give them that to build a whole person that’s not just book smart but street smart, and how they can navigate their lives better.”

When COVID-19 came, the in-person sessions ended temporarily.

“[We were] hoping to go back in person, but we recognize that the challenge still exists,” says De Lyon.

“Now that we’ve moved to this online platform, we can service even other students from other areas because of what we’ve set up.”

BPT is teaching students online, just like school boards, explains De Lyon.

“And I think we do encounter the same challenges as everybody else.”

De Lyon says none of BPT’s students are beyond Grade 11 at this point, but hopes to see some in university or college soon.

BPT is continuing to find ways to inspire the future of the Black community.

“We wanted to…create a documentary that would be taking all the media and the video we’ve collected to highlight how the struggles that a black student has, that a black person has like trying to pursue this career,” says De Lyon.

“That online platform would be like something that turns into a legacy…where these students can always connect with mentors and students.”

“And it wouldn’t be such a challenge as we experienced,” says De Lyon.