Bursary program a powerful symbol of professional unity and support

CMA Foundation provides financial relief to medical students facing hardship as a direct result of COVID-19.

Laura Vega - 17 July 2020

University of Alberta medical learners struggling with financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic are receiving a much-needed boost from the Canadian Medical Association's CMA Foundation (CMAF).

In April, the CMAF announced a donation of $5 million to be distributed among 17 Canadian medical schools to support medical students and residents who have experienced unanticipated financial difficulties as a direct result of COVID-19. The CMA Foundation COVID-19 Support for Medical Learners Bursary was created to support medical students and/or residents who have experienced unanticipated financial hardship as a direct result of COVID-19. Understanding that medical learners need support more than ever, the intent of this funding is to help alleviate some of their financial stress.

This funding is intended to provide support for learners facing challenges such as job loss, access to housing, food, tuition, mental health services, transportation, and more, in the context of COVID-19. The CMA Foundation wants to ensure that medical learners can cover their basic needs, so that they can continue to focus on their studies and their overall well-being.

"COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted our health-care system. But we need to make sure that it doesn't derail medical careers that will serve generations to come," says Allison Seymour, CMAF president. "Our hope is that these funds can provide immediate relief for students and residents as they prepare for the upcoming school year in our new normal."

"It's an incredible gesture by the CMA Foundation to extend this help to our learners, our future colleagues, and to demonstrate that we do look after each other," says Melanie Lewis, associate dean, Advocacy and Wellbeing. "This bursary stands for more than money. It takes away a significant burden from learners and speaks a lot to professional identity and collegiality-making sure that we have each other's back."

The novel coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on the health system dealing with an anticipated surge of cases and hospitalizations. It has also led to the temporary closure of businesses and institutions-leading to massive layoffs-to avoid larger outbreaks. As a result, medical students and residents are facing significant stressors and mental health challenges, says Lewis. In addition to unexpected changes in learning and clinical activities and cancelled plans to take electives in other provinces, some students have partners who lost their jobs, which impacted their ability to pay for their education and support their families. In the case of residents that are still working, some are facing extra costs by living away from their families to minimize risk of spreading the virus.

"It's been really hard for our students. Very suddenly, medical students were pulled out of their classroom and clinical environments," says Lewis. "Residents are on the front lines, and are very likely to be exposed to COVID-19. There are anxieties for themselves, their family and friends, and also their patients."

"In both cases, COVID-19 has created not only health uncertainty, but a lot of career uncertainty and adaptation. They're grappling with a lot of change."

MD students and residents can now apply for the CMA Foundation COVID-19 Support for Medical Learners Bursary. The Office of Advocacy & Wellbeing is also developing initiatives to further aid medical learners.

The CMA Foundation has provided significant financial support to medical students in the past, with initiatives such as the CMA's 150th anniversary scholarships and bursaries for learners in Canadian medical schools.