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This article was published 12/5/2015 (2081 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The University of Manitoba could make sweeping changes to medical school admissions for 2016 that would cut out-of-province spaces in half and make them available to a wide range of qualified but traditionally underrepresented minority groups.

That could include single parents, the children of single and/or teen parents, indigenous students, non-heterosexual students, students who grew up in a low-income home, or refugees.

The proposal goes before the university senate Wednesday for approval.

"We’re only going to be the second medical school in North America with a low socioeconomic stream," Dr. Brian Postl, dean of both the faculty of health sciences and the college of medicine, said Monday. The only other one is in Texas, he said.

"We want our medical school to be representative of the people they serve. We have to create the mindset that you can come to medical school from low socioeconomic settings," Postl said.

The U of M medical school accepts 110 students each year.

The proposal going before the senate would reduce out-of-province spaces to five per cent of each new class from 10, and make those spaces available for qualified candidates from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.

Postl said the medical school receives more than 1,000 applications each year for its 110 spots. Only Canadian citizens are allowed to attend medical schools in Canadian universities, so there are no international students accepted, he explained.

Postl said the U of M already has a number of spaces set aside for qualified indigenous, francophone and rural students.

Tuition runs about $8,000 a year, which is a deterrent for many students capable of succeeding in medical school, he said. However, there are extensive bursaries and scholarships, and the province will cover tuition for medical graduates who agree to practise in Manitoba, he pointed out.

Between 1989 and 2011, only 36 per cent of out-of-province medical grads took postgraduate education here, and only four per cent of out-of-province medical grads stayed here to practise.

"You tend to go home after medical school," Postl said.

The weighted application process would give 41 per cent to family history, 37 per cent to economic information, and 22 per cent to other sociocultural determinants. Altogether, applicants would be assessed on 24 criteria.

U of M has been studying increased diversity among medical students since 2013.

In the report to senate, director of admissions Dr. Bruce Martin noted, "There has been growing expression of concern regarding the significant and chronic under-representation of some minority groups, and the continued barriers that remain for underrepresented groups to access medical education."

The report noted the University of Saskatchewan accepts only five per cent of its applicants from out of province, and the University of British Columbia, while having no firm limit, took only 6.5 per cent in its most recent medical class.

The U of M report says most medical students are from high-income families — little progress has been made attracting indigenous medical students and other sociocultural and ethnic groups. Manitoba needs doctors reflecting our diversity in ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic conditions, and sexual orientation.

Postl said while the proposal covers only medical school, the access changes could apply in future to students in dentistry, nursing and pharmacy, all within the faculty of health sciences.