By Gillian Woodford
Let’s face it: starting medical school can be quite an overwhelming experience. The McGill Medical Students’ Society’s ACE (Ambassadors for Comprehensive Education) program aims to ease the transition by offering new medical students a helping hand to navigate through medical school. Launched in 2015 by medical students Gabriel Souza and Claudèle Brault, the ACE’s original purpose was to start a buddy system to pair new medical students with more senior peers. The ACE has since expanded to offer a variety of activities to support medical students throughout their studies.
“Our goal was to help students prepare for academic activities (including written exams, OSCEs, clinical rotations, etc.) as well as to decrease overall stress related to medical school, especially at times of transition,” explains Gabriel, now a Med-4 entering a Psychiatry residency at McGill and ACE co-chair. Claudèle, the other co-chair, is also a Med-4 and will be entering the Obstetrics and Gynecology residency program at the Université de Montréal.
The buddy system remains at the heart of the ACE, explains Med-3 rep Alexandre Doucet. “The ACE pairs every incoming Med-1 student who desires it to an upper-year buddy, giving a ratio of 120 out of approximately 180 students paired per year,” he says. “The upper-year buddies are there to provide guidance and to answer all the questions the incoming med students have around medicine, the curriculum or life in general. They also act as first line actors to reduce the stress of these new med students and guide them to appropriate resources when they feel overwhelmed, which we have seen many cases of lately.”
Gabriel adds, “From the beginning, we wanted the ACE to be a student-led program, and have representatives in all cohorts so that we could directly tackle the needs for each class.” The ACE is now offering a number of new initiatives to help both Med-1 and upper-year medical students: “We have organized an anatomy mock examination; talks on summer opportunities for Med-1s and transition to clinical practice (TCP); a physical examination review session for Med-2s; a general post-match talk for Med-3s; and a CaRMS talk for Med-4s.”
The ACE committee members have even conducted a study of the benefits of the program, which they presented as a poster at the recent Canadian Conference for Medical Education (CCME) in Halifax. “We evaluated the impact of our numerous peer-led events on stress reduction for medical students,” explains Alexandre. Their analysis shows that 100% of students who participated in the ACE program enjoyed the sessions, and over 90% said it greatly reduced their stress. Adds Gabriel, “Our program has also been useful in terms of academic preparation (for both the learners and the teachers) and bolstering senior students’ interest in participating in peer-teaching activities.”
The program has also had a bonus benefit. “It is a great way for student teachers to develop their skills as teachers, one of the fundamental CanMEDS roles that we are not yet exposed to very much during medical school,” says Alexandre, referring to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada framework which outlines the abilities physicians need to serve the needs of their patients. “Other studies have shown the benefits of such a strategy for both learners and student teachers.”
Gabriel says that the ACE Program garnered a lot of interest from CCME participants from other Canadian med schools. “We talked with many representatives of medical schools across the country and encouraged the presence of peer-led teaching as a learning method in the medical curriculum. Teachers, students and academic advisors were impressed with our work and that such an idea was implemented at McGill, and are interested in having the ACE collaborate with them so that a similar committee can be implemented in other medical schools.”