This year, UBC faculty of medicine has changed its curriculum to include a mandatory FLEX Program that encourages medical students to engage with meaningful research, community projects or volunteer work.
Previously known as the Self-Directed Practicum Option (SDPO), the FLEX program focuses on providing opportunities and time for medical students to pursue their interests more holistically. It also offers students the ability to continue working on projects previously developped under SDPO.
For instance, The Reading Bear Society (RBS) was spearheaded by former medical students, Isabel Chen and Joanne Roussey, as part of SDPO and is now offered to students in the FLEX program.
RBS focuses on promoting literacy to young children in Vancouver.
Victoria Baronas, a FLEX student representative and current MD/PhD Candidate, reflected on her experiences pursuing the Reading Bear project.
“In my year, a few students got together to work on creating the My Bear Book and [it] was given to kindergarteners. It’s an activity book that they do with high school students during each visit,” said Baronas. “Every visit has its own theme ... and they do different activities.”
Now, she is working to expand the program’s goals with a module more related to medicine that familiarizes the process of health care and doctors to kindergarteners.
Another expansion could also come in the form of an official club recognition from the AMS. A similar project was started at Simon Fraser University last year, and Baronas noted that its success has inspired her and her team to apply for club status at UBC.
“Two students who were with us, both in fourth year, took the initiative to start the club and clearly took it to a very high level,” she said. “They recruited a bunch of people, they had staff committees, they put on events, raised a lot of money and raised thousands of books.”
Currently, the Reading Bear Club is still waiting for approval from the AMS.
Its president, Santiago Perez, noted that the club will focus on charity and aim to raise awareness on the lack of promotion of literacy to underprivileged youth in Vancouver.
“In Vancouver and BC generally, we have one of the highest rates of child poverty which means this specific group often has little to no access to reading supplies,” he said. “When they start school and classes, they start far behind so the purpose of the club is to promote it in order to create a lasting impact.”
It will also be open to all undergraduate students, despite its start in the medical student’s community.