Filipino-Heritage Medical Students Honour CMA President Gigi Osler

Dec 20, 2018
Heidi Singer

Dr. Gigi OslerDr. Gigi Osler Medical students of Filipino heritage will honour one of their own today, when Dr. Gigi Osler visits the Faculty of Medicine to speak about the importance of diversity in medicine, and her own journey to becoming a physician.

Osler, a Winnipeg Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgeon, is the current president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). She is a great-great-great niece of the legendary Sir William Osler, who was also a CMA president.

“She often will say ‘I’m the face of what medicine looks like today.’” says Ivy Oandasan, a physician and professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine who mentors Filipino medical students at U of T, and those interested in becoming physicians. “She exemplifies the diversity that exists in our Canadian mosaic -- something we should be proud of.”

Oandasan, who serves as Director of Education for the College of Family Physicians of Canada, has been working with Filipino-heritage medical students, studying the underrepresentation of their community in medicine at U of T and across Canada. (Currently, there are only eight medical students at U of T who identify as Filipino-heritage.) Part of the MD Program’s Community of Support, the group brought Osler to campus to help inspire students with her success in medicine and in medical leadership.

“We want to show there are role models out there like the CMA president,” says Gian Agtarap, a first-year medical student at U of T. The lack of Filipino physicians, he says, has “been on my mind quite a while now, considering how many Filipinos there are in Toronto. "There is a stereotype that all Filipinos go into nursing. Nursing is an extremely honourable profession and critical to the success of our healthcare system, but I am curious as to the reason for the disproportionate ratio of Filipino nurses to doctors."

Currently, there’s scant research into why Filipino-Canadians tend to eschew medical school, but Agtarap and Oandasan say it could be that nursing is more of a well-known and secure choice for Filipino immigrant families to advise their children to pursue.

“With nursing -- you have a high likelihood of getting a job,” says Oandasan. “Getting into medicine is more of a gamble, you have to take an undergraduate degree, and there’s no guarantees you’re going to get a job after you finish that degree, if you don’t get into medicine. From a security point of view, nursing is familiar and Filipinos do very well in the profession -- we’ve got a long history.

“We may need to consider barriers other than tuition to getting into medical school,” she adds. “Our current admission pathways may be preventing qualified people, from diverse ethnic backgrounds who are interested but because of life circumstances are not encouraged or able to apply.”

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