Med Students Offer a Prescription for GOAL

The future doctors, dentists and other health-care professionals who volunteer with the McGill Community Outreach Projects are on a mission. Their in-class presentations and career-day exhibits promote healthy lifestyles to elementary and high-school students and expose them to the diversity of health-care careers.

As a GOAL resource, the Community Outreach Projects (C.O.P.) comes highly recommended. Nancy Battet, who is responsible for community and partnership liaison with the Lester B. Pearson School Board, is a big fan of the McGill students. She is thrilled with the way they have been helping teachers relate learning to real-life issues and potential careers.

These Lindsay Place students were “med-students-for-a-day.”

These Lindsay Place students visited McGill as “Med-Students-for-a-Day.”

“They’ve visited many of our schools this year and done so much that is GOAL-oriented. They’ve supported our career-awareness initiatives and talked to students about such topics as acne, obesity and sports injuries. In one school, they did a presentation on Ebola and infectious diseases.”

David D’Arienzo, a first-year medical student and Community Outreach Projects (C.O.P.) coordinator, explains that the student-run organization was created in 2003 by a med student who wanted to demystify the world of health care. The group works in collaboration with McGill’s Faculty of Medicine. In addition to its six-person executive, C.O.P. has a pool of 15 volunteers who will visit schools in and around Montréal. They are now making plans with the English Montréal School Board for the next school year.

They’ll talk to students about acne and obesity or even Ebola and infectious diseases.

David and his colleagues enjoy working with younger students and their presentations are deliberately hands-on. “We’ll teach students how to take their blood pressure, what the readings mean, how to listen to their heart with a stethoscope or what an asthma attack sounds like,” says David.  “They are so curious and open to learning new things. And the questions they ask are outstanding. The medical field has advanced greatly with technology, but there is still a lot we don’t know. We try to impress on them that whether they’re in grade 1 or grade 11, they may be the people that one day answer those questions.”

Doctors are detectives, too

Wendy Abbott, a grade 6 teacher at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary in Vaudreuil, enjoyed watching one of the McGill students interact with kids from her class during a career day this spring. “He compared doctors to Sherlock Holmes and presented medicine as a mystery that requires investigation. You have to figure out what symptoms your patient has, run tests, rule other things out. He was very welcoming and answered all the kids’ questions. They loved it.”

A girl from Pierre Elliott Trudeau School checks a McGill student’s reflexes.

A Pierre Elliott Trudeau student learns how to test reflexes.

Each year Wendy’s students complete an essential skills survey during a career unit she does with them in English Language Arts. The presenters chosen for the school’s annual grade 6 career day reflect the students’ interests and aptitudes as indicated by the survey. “Sometimes the results surprise students,” says Wendy. One girl didn’t understand why she had been assigned to the medical presentation. Only after she attended did she make the link between a health-care profession and her own interests. “Maybe she won’t be a surgeon,” says her teacher, “but she might do medical research.”

No cookie-cutter applicants

COP-LogoA major goal of the McGill students is to raise awareness of just how diverse the field of health care is. “How often do elementary or high-school students hear about Occupational or Physical Therapy, Speech Language Pathology, Nursing or Optometry?” asks David.  “We want students to know there is no cookie-cutter applicant for medical school and there are a range of health-related careers. To become a physician requires many years of schooling, but you could also become a paramedic or a medical imaging technician after a three-year CEGEP technical program.”

Next year, the C.O.P. volunteers will be organizing opportunities for Secondary IV and V students to shadow a physician or researcher for a day. Just recently, seven Cycle Two students from the LBPSB’s Lindsay Place High School visited McGill to participate in a “Medical-Student-for-a-Day” activity.

Nor is the learning all one way. David notes that the contact with younger students is helping him and his fellow volunteers become better communicators. “In giving these presentations, we are teaching complex topics to students who may not have a deep understanding of health and science. Similarly in medicine, we will have to explain complex problems to patients. The experience is teaching us to identify when our message isn’t getting through and to develop tools and techniques to better explain ourselves.”


What two Lindsay Place students had to say

“We had a great time and an incredible experience as McGill Med-Students-for-a-Day. The opportunity to sit in and listen to an actual medical school lecture was eye-opening and priceless. We definitely think more students should have the opportunity to experience what we were able to be a part of.”


To request a presentation

To learn more about the McGill Community Outreach Projects or to request a presentation, visit their website at:

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