Amidst the unique and innovative buildings at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), there sits a curious silver building between the Communication, Culture, and Technology and Davis buildings: the Terrence Donnelly Health Sciences Complex (TDHSC). Opened in 2011, the building was named after benefactor Terrence Donnelly, an advocate for health care improvements and supporter of medical research and patient care. The four-story building is home to multiple departments and graduate studies on campus. Two floors are dedicated to the biomedical communications graduate program, as well as the undergraduate department of anthropology—including its offices and research labs. The majority of the TDHSC is dedicated to the Mississauga Academy of Medicine (MAM), which is one of four academies as part of U of T’s MD program.
Each academy—FitzGerald Academy, Mississauga Academy of Medicine, Peters-Boyd Academy, and Wightman-Berris Academy—comprises a cluster of affiliated hospitals where medical school students obtain their education and experience. Accepted medical school students are assigned to each academy based on their preference and availability. Prospective students commonly apply to the MD program in their third or fourth year of undergraduate studies. All applications are completed through the Ontario Medical School Application Service, where one application is submitted for U of T’s MD program.
Dr. Sarah McClennan is the academy director of MAM, one of four academy directors at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, and an emergency physician at Trillium Health Partners. She shares that students take one of four pathways when applying: the MD/PhD program, the Black Student Application Program, Indigenous Student Application Program, and the general pathway. Following application review and interviews, roughly 250 students are accepted into the MD program each year, and only 54 of those students are selected to join the MAM.
Dr. Prem Nichani, a recent graduate of the U of T MD program and MAM, is a Ophthalmology resident in the Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Sciences at U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine. Born and raised in Toronto, Dr. Nichani chose to complete his undergraduate studies at Laurier University due to its community-like atmosphere and optimal opportunities. He became interested in pursuing medicine following a familial history of illnesses. While having the preference of attending the downtown MD program, he was selected to attend MAM. Dr. Nichani ultimately believes that this was the best decision for his career trajectory.
“First, I am happy to be at U of T, [and] second, I am happier that I was given the opportunity to be at Mississauga,” says. Dr. Nichani. “[MAM] offers the best of both worlds. [The] opportunities at Mississauga are unlike any other.” While MAM still offers the same curriculum as the one in downtown Toronto, it gives students more opportunities for direct interactions with faculty in hospitals and hands-on learning. Chosen as the class co-president for four years, Dr. Nichani found additional opportunities to interact with the faculty downtown as well.
In their first year, MAM students have group lectures that are broadcasted from either of the two locations. Medical students can see their peers at the other locations and participate live. The first two years of medical school include small-group learning, where case-based learning—applying knowledge to real-world scenarios—is emphasized. Students also learn clinical skills in a hospital setting. At MAM, students complete their medical training at the three Trillium Health Partners hospital locations.
According to Dr. McClennan, the academy director of MAM, the local faculty at MAM is made of physicians that are appointed with the U of T MD program. In their third year, students do their clerkship, a practice that requires them to be at the hospital full-time. Here, they complete rotations in hospital units such as emergency, internal medicine, and psychiatry. In their fourth year, they take electives in additional institutions to gain experience in the field they are interested in. This opportunity allows them to build networks as well.
“Being a doctor is one thing, but now you are deciding what type of doctor you want to be,” explains Dr. Nichani. Some examples of electives include transition to residency (doctors in training), ethical dilemma, diversity, and inclusion.
“Part of being in medical school [is being a part of the] medical student society. [There are] numerable clubs including sports, advocacy groups, and leadership opportunities,” explains Dr. McClennan. “One of the benefits of being in Mississauga is the best of both worlds: get [the] local community feel with all the opportunities available at downtown.”
A variety of clubs are offered for medical students at MAM such as teaching opportunities, and homeless and cancer initiatives. Students also take part in creative endeavors such as DaffyDil: The Musical, a theatrical production written, produced, directed, and performed by the Faculty of Medicine students. This creative outlet raises money and donates it to the Canadian Cancer Society, now raising more than $600,000.
While research during medical school is not needed, it is recommended. Students can work with research coordinators at MAM and take part in research that best suits them. Dr. Nichani strongly encourages students to take part in research: “[The] only way innovation progresses in medicine is through research.”
After earning their MD degree, MAM graduates apply for residency positions through the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) to continue their training. Dr. McClennan shares that the CaRMS match is done well, where 96 per cent of students are matched to the program of their choice. However, acceptance depends on their clinical experience, research activities, activities making up their curriculum vitae, as well as evaluation received from superiors in their rotations. Grades are only evaluated based on a pass or fail basis. Additional factors include their interest in the field that the student is pursuing, personal statements, and how they perform in interviews.
Interviews determine whether medical graduates are a good fit for the residency position. “Be yourself, not your ideal self that isn’t actually you,” advises Dr. Nichani. “[Otherwise], you may end up regretting it.” He concludes that regardless of their pathway students should pursue something they are genuinely interested in and enjoy.
With its diverse methods of learning and hands-on engagement, medical students at MAM gain valuable clinical experience and get involved in the community. They integrate and experience student life across the downtown and Mississauga campuses. Eventually, MAM graduates become prospective residency students, having gained the knowledge and experience they require to be capable doctors and serve in the medical field.