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Connecting through conversation

Students entering medical and graduate school often encounter a lack of diversity in their programs. Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, PhD, is the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies in the Faculty of Medicine and an associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University.

She notes that in 2020, there are still medical school classes in Canada with only one incoming Black student. “When this happens, it is a significant indication that there are systemic barriers that must be addressed and corrected.”

Through her monthly Chair Chat sessions, Dr. Dryden has been sparking connections among Black students studying medicine and other health care or graduate programs at Dalhousie. The two-hour sessions feature free-flowing conversations with participants from multiple faculties.

“It’s an opportunity for Black students to openly discuss topics that come up in their classes, connect with their peers and hear from those who have shared similar experiences,” said Dr. Dryden.

Chair Chats have helped address the feelings of isolation that many Black medical students in Canada experience. Last year, Dr. Dryden hosted a bi-coastal session in British Columbia with students from Dalhousie and the University of Victoria. The students described similar experiences in their programs and found the opportunity to meet with one another empowering and enlightening.

“They shared stories and strategies, and generously supported one another,” Dr. Dryden said. “When there are only a few Black students in a program, it is necessary for them to find others who may also be having similar experiences.”

Chair Chats take place on the third Wednesday of each month, September through April. Though this year, “after the murder of George Floyd, continuing police brutality and anti-Black racism, Chair Chats were extended into the summer months,” said Dr. Dryden. Due to COVID-19, upcoming sessions will be held online.

To learn more about Black studies and racism in medicine, follow the James R. Johnston Chair Twitter account (@JRJChair) and visit its website.