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A path for a new generation of Black physicians

Dr. Felix Durity is a trailblazer for neurosurgery in BC. Now the Faculty of Medicine alumnus and professor emeritus has made a gift to establish a fund to support aspiring Black physicians.

Dr. Felix Durity, BA’58, MD’63

For Black students to imagine themselves becoming doctors, they need to see Black mentors, role models and students at the university, and Black physicians providing health care in their community.

To create new opportunities in medicine for Black students and help address racism and discrimination in the health care system, Dr. Felix Durity, BA’58, MD’63, OBC and professor emeritus in the department of surgery, made the gift to the UBC Faculty of Medicine that established the Black MD Student Pathway Support Fund. It is launching in tandem with the Black Student MD Admissions Pathway this summer.

A Change of culture

Dr. Durity’s path to medical school was different from many Black students who grew up in Canada. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Durity paints a picture of his childhood years within a colonial empire experiencing seismic change.

“The wings of independence were spreading, and I had the privilege of growing up totally free, seeing Black people pursue any career they desired,” he recalls. “There was a tremendous emphasis placed on education, and it was very competitive.”

Arriving in Vancouver to pursue a post-secondary education at UBC was a jarring experience for Dr. Durity due to the low number of Black people in the student population.

“My career progressed; I had to work hard, and surgery was very demanding. I entered an academic stream, eventually becoming head of neurosurgery,” he says. “Although I saw several Black Caribbean students during medical school, I never saw a single Black Canadian-born medical student.”

A trailblazer for neurosurgery in B.C., Dr. Durity was the first resident trained in this medical subspecialty at UBC. He went on to develop treatment programs that revolutionized the acute care and management of head injuries at Vancouver General Hospital and helped establish its laser surgery program. As head of UBC’s division of neurosurgery (1991-1997), he single-handedly raised funds to provide salary support for neurosurgical residents, research and equipment. Also a humanitarian, he co-founded the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Neuroscience in Ghana as part of his commitment to enhancing neurosurgical care in developing countries.

Recognizing underrepresentation

In 2020, Black Physicians of British Columbia was formed to address the issues of institutionalized racism and underrepresentation in medical residency, fellowship and staff physician positions. In engaging with this grassroots organization, Dr. Durity saw the need to be more active in supporting Black medical trainees.

He looked to the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s Indigenous MD Admissions Pathway as an inspiration for how UBC and B.C. could recruit and retain Black physicians. The Indigenous pathway views each applicant as a whole person, valuing both academic performance and life experiences, and has dedicated resources for Indigenous students such as a mentorship program and Year 1 orientation.

Dr. Durity’s gift will provide student support in the form of financial awards such as bursaries, adding to UBC’s efforts to remove the barriers to professional and academic success that Black students experience. His gift will also help fulfill President Santa Ono’s pledge of an institutional commitment to inclusion and call for the acceleration and intensification of efforts to build a more inclusive campus community.

I have profound respect for President Santa Ono. In addressing racism and injustice at UBC, he is establishing a world of opportunity here, and the university is beautifully positioned to be at the heart of change. It’s my goal to support it in a philanthropic way.

— Dr. Felix Durity, Professor Emeritus, UBC Department of Surgery

Dr. Durity hopes the Black Student MD Admissions Pathway will add momentum to the conversation about racism in medicine and strengthen the foundations of equity, diversity and inclusion in education at UBC. He also hopes more opportunities will be offered to the next generation of Black MD students, in response to the financial burdens Black communities experience such as lower incomes and unequal employment opportunities.

“I am not exceptional,” is his message to students. “You are, so see me in yourself. Believe in yourselves, be ambitious and if you do that, you will succeed.”