Innovative programs designed to enhance the Learner Experience


The Associate Dean, Dr. Leslie Nickell, and staff of the Office of Health Professions Student Affairs (OHPSA) in Undergraduate Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, are dedicated to helping students adjust to the Faculty of Medicine Programs and to achieve their full academic and personal potentials. This innovative and fully integrated unit promotes the enrichment of student life and development of a healthy balance of work, extracurricular activities and community involvement. Indeed, the staff of the OHPSA has accumulated over 100 years of experience assisting students with every possible academic, interpersonal, health, emotional, housing and family problem. They also facilitate student access to extensive resources and networks within the University and the surrounding community. Services provided include:

  • Personal counseling
  • Career counseling
  • Academic enrichment
  • Learning skills counseling
  • Service learning

The OHPSA also runs a series of innovative programs, including the Summer Mentorship Program (SMP) in the Health Sciences. The SMP is a four-week program for high school students who are members of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, of African ancestry, or from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Aimed at students 16 years of age or older who have not yet realized their academic potential, the goal of this program is to provide students with an opportunity to discover various possibilities related to university education and professional careers in the health sciences through hands-on experiences (experiments, lectures and special projects). Indeed, all students are provided with an opportunity to reach high levels of academic achievement, become lifelong learners, and unleash their potential in regard to a career in the health sciences.

“Societies are judged over time on how they have cared for and protected their vulnerable members. Students involved in community partnerships develop heightened social awareness and a sense of moral responsibility. They discover inner strengths, hidden talents and leadership potential”.

Dr. Leslie Nickell, Associate Dean, OHPSA & Diana Alli, Senior Officer, OHPSA

The OHPSA also works with several special interest groups designed to provide a well-rounded learner experience. The groups range from the Badminton Club to the Rural Health Initiative(RHI) to the University of Toronto International Health Program.

Various service learning opportunities are also provided. Indeed, the mandate of Community Affairs is to “transform students – build communities – foster compassion”, which is accomplished in part through the provision of over 21 student-led programs that emphasize and promote the faculty’s social accountability mission. Programs and service learning programs currently include:

  • ChildArts (aimed at providing recreational and respite programs for children with disabilities, while increasing student involvement at Bloorview Kids Rehab)
  • Kids2Hear (a primary preventive health initiative whereby medical students screen elementary school-aged children who are most in need for hearing deficits)
  • IMAGINE - Interprofessional Medical Allied Group for Improving Neighbourhood Environments (in conjunction with the Interprofessional Health Sciences Association students from the applied health science faculties work together to provide a hassle-free, student-run clinic to the clients of the Meeting Place division of St. Christopher House). IMAGINE has also provided students with an opportunity to volunteer-communityengage in scholarly work (see Dugani, S and McGuire, R. Development of IMAGINE: A three-pillar student initiative to promote social accountability and interprofessional education, Journal of Interprofessional Care, 1-3, 2011)
  • Seniors Outreach Program (a program which coordinates home visits from 2 medical students to isolated seniors in the community)
  • The Saturday Program (a weekly program run in partnership with the Toronto District School Board, which offers tutoring and mentorship programs for students in grades 8, 9 and 10)

The impact of our community and educational programs is undeniable. In 2010-2011, 21 programs were offered with intensive, one-on-one interactions as a major emphasis. Over 750 student volunteers were involved in these programs and over 2,840 members of our community across the age spectrum (children, youths, adults and seniors) received assistance.  All programs are directed by undergraduate medical students, who also form the majority of the volunteers (50% of volunteers, more than 90% of which are 3rd year students). Approximately 70% of the third year pre-clerkship student body engaged in voluntary service learning in 2010-2011. The mix of student volunteers across faculties is a testament to the interprofessional and highly collaborative nature of these programs. Volunteers spend a median of 20 hours preparing and volunteering in a program (range: 3 to 40 hours), while student program directors spend a median of 40 hours directing a program (range: 15 to 500 hours). In other words, students can choose from volunteering in one-time service-learning opportunities, for example at a soup kitchen for three hours, all the way to longer commitments, such as mentoring a child over several months. Please click here for a link to the Community Affairs brochure.

For further information on the OHPSA, please do visit their website by clicking here or contact:

Office of Health Professions Student Affairs, Faculty of Medicine, U of T
Medical Sciences Building, Room 2171B (Stone Lobby)
1 King's College Circle
Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1A8

Tel: (416) 978-2764
Fax: (416) 971-3056