Two students in hallway
Post-secondary students Mary Zhu (L) and Monika Ashwin test drove a career in healthcare by working on a series of projects alongside professionals of the UHN Transplant Program. (Photo: UHN)

For 10 years, UHN's Transplant Program at Toronto General Hospital (TG) has welcomed post-secondary students to work alongside its staff on projects to enhance the quality of life and overall experiences of patients.

Even though it is North America's leading adult transplant program, the team continues to seek opportunities to improve its overall quality of care.

"Our healthcare delivery model experienced a few gaps," says Segun Famure, Manager of Research, Associate Director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Student Research Training Program (MOTSRTP).

"Conducting high quality research requires gathering solid, reliable clinical  information. Since the inception of the training program in 2009, students have helped fill in those gaps."

Program directors Dr. Joseph Kim and Segun also prioritized creating resources to educate and inform patients about the activities within the kidney transplant program to improve their quality of life post-transplant.

Students have helped create a comprehensive research database of patient information by the name of 'CoReTRIS' and bi-annual newsletters and bulletins: 'Kidney Pulse' and 'IMPACT Bulletin.'

"This program has given us the opportunity to apply innovative approaches to care and assess the outcomes of post-implementation quite readily," says Segun.

This year, MOTSRTP gave  37 post-secondary students the chance to gain hands-on experience in key areas of healthcare, such as scientific writing, research, data management and innovation, all while working closely with a wide variety of  healthcare professionals.

Examples of some of their most recent projects include: collaborating with local clinics to expedite the transplant screening processes and implementing tests for pre-liver transplant.

"I didn't realize there's a lot more to the [transplant] patient experience than just having their name taken off of the waiting list," says Mary Zhu, fourth-year Multi-Organ Transplant Summer Research Transplant Program trainee and third-year accelerated MD student of Queen's University.

The transplant patient experience is a journey with many aspects: medical and psycho-social tests, imaging scans, follow-ups, along with what can be a stressful wait for an organ. 

Program has expanded over the years

The UHN Transplant Program recognizes patients can feel overwhelmed and offers individual support for managing stress. This can be a referral to Transplant Psychiatry or the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program to help patients deal with stress better.

MOTSRTP teaches post-secondary students such as Mary that there's a lot to take into consideration to help patients through their journey.

Initially, the program was exclusive to the kidney program. Shortly after the students proved themselves as assets to the team, the program was expanded to other organ groups.

"We only ever hear of the general practitioners," says Bronte Anderson, University of Toronto student, MOTSRTP trainee. "We don't see enough of the other healthcare professionals that contribute to medicine.

"I've realized my options are endless."

Every year, the program directors meet with various healthcare providers across the program to discuss their progress and opportunities to integrate into the curriculum for MOTSRTP.

"Patients come from far and wide to TG to see a number of experts to determine their eligibility for a transplant," says Monika Ashwin, third-year MOTSRTP trainee, Bachelor of MD student, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

"We have worked on creating a portal that allows patients to track their own progress in the pre-transplant evaluation process and empowers them to take responsibility for their health."

Monika worked on a shared-care model where patients can have regular checkups and consults with physicians at clinics closer to home to limit their travel time to the hospital.

"This program showed me that the journey a patient travels is not always smooth sailing," says Monika. "There will always be ups and downs, but patients are often feeling grateful for a second chance at life despite the challenges their transplant may bring on."

It's this realization that motivates many of the students to work on initiatives that could improve the experiences of the transplant patients at TG.

"We knew the structure of the program would be mutually beneficial for both our team members as well as the students," says Dr. Kim. "Collaborating with students who are both hardworking and curious can be beneficial for both parties."

For many of these students, the hands-on, collaborative learning is something they don't get in school.

"The novelty of [MOTSRTP] is interesting," says Denis Qeska, a University of Ottawa student and MOTSRTP trainee. "We get this unique hands-on exposure to healthcare and medicine, from research to patient care, all as undergrad students."

Picture of a group of students
Segun Famure, (R), Manager of Research, Associate Director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Student Research Training Program, believes integrating the students into extracurricular activities will help nurture their growth as individuals and effective team members. Pictured above are some of the students following the annual Heart and Soul concert they hold for UHN patients. (L to R): Bronte Anderson, Mary Zhu, Denis Qeska, Madeleine Stein, Monika Ashwin and Segun Famure. (Photo: UHN)

The transplant team recognizes their guidance impacts the students in many ways.. The mentorship and camaraderie the students get through the program helps them gain confidence as they decide what professions to pursue.

"Dedicated time and effort is required for mentoring, but the rewards are exponential," says Segun.

For many of the students, the MOTSRTP serves as their first experiences in healthcare. This opportunity not only enlightens them about the depth of the patient experience but enables them to learn with the guidance of the transplant team.

 "Everyone involved encourages us to seek them for help. They understand we're students and that we're here to learn," says Madeleine Stein, four-year returnee of MOTSRTP who will pursue a Master's in public health at Columbia University, New York City.

"The program has been widely successful as a result of the continued support we get from all of the staff, students, and patients," says Segun. "We hope to continue improving the quality of our patients' lives and their experiences in the Transplant Program." ​

Back to Top