Members of SPARK.
Research  >  Education & training  >  Sunnybrook Program to Access Research Knowledge (SPARK) for Black and Indigenous Medical Students

Sunnybrook Program to Access Research Knowledge (SPARK) for Black and Indigenous Medical Students

SPARK provides a highly supported experience for University of Toronto Black and Indigenous medical students to explore research. The goals of the program are:

  1. To provide Black and Indigenous students who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to engage in research/quality improvement, with the opportunity to do so
  2. To identify and support promising young Black and Indigenous researchers
  3. To help Black and Indigenous students identify and realize their career goals
  4. To increase and support Black and Indigenous representation in the field of medical research and quality improvement


SPARK was initiated in the summer of 2021 as a pilot program under the umbrella of the Sunnybrook department of medicine, with financial backing from Sunnybrook, the department of medicine, and the Sunnybrook Research Institute. As we move forward into 2024, the program will continue to operate within the department of medicine, offering project opportunities across various departments including surgery, psychiatry, the Tory Trauma Research Program, Cancer Ablation Therapy (CAT) program in the Department of Radiation Oncology, as well as collaborations with Sunnybrook researchers affiliated with the Novo Nordisk Network for Healthy Populations, the Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety (C-QIPS), and potentially other programs in the future.

The SPARK program offers medical students a valuable platform to explore potential career paths in medical research and academic medicine. Furthermore, it aims to enhance the competitiveness of historically underrepresented individuals in various medical fields, particularly enabling them to secure subspecialty residency placements as part of their Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) applications.

SPARK was profiled in Your Health Matters. Read more about the program.

Program description:

Medical students enrolled in the program will have the opportunity to work on a full-time basis for a period of 10 weeks during the summer after successfully completing their first year of medical school. Furthermore, they will also engage in part-time work, dedicating approximately 5-10 hours per week, throughout their second academic year. Throughout the program, students will collaborate closely with a research supervisor to address a specific research question. Their active involvement will encompass various research activities, including the development and drafting of protocols, seeking approval from the research ethics board, collection and analysis of data, as well as interpretation of results. Additionally, students will contribute to presentations and publications. These research projects will be led by esteemed faculty members from participating departments. To ensure a fulfilling experience and appropriate guidance, students will have the opportunity to rank their preferred projects, and assignments will be made according to their preferences. The program places significant importance on student mentorship, offering each student access to both career and community mentors in addition to their research supervisor.

Feedback from students: 

“SPARK has given me exposure to academic medicine. I never saw myself going down this route before because it felt like medicine would be challenging enough to navigate as a BIPOC trainee. I am starting to learn more about the pros and cons of academic medicine, as well as the clinician-researcher and clinician-educator pathways.”

“What I love about SPARK is how learner-focused it is. I have found my mentors to be invested in my own career exploration and goals. I also appreciate that I am getting a crash course on clinical research as I go through the program.”

“I feel more prepared for matching to residency and now feel like a more competitive applicant. Furthermore I now see research and mentorship as part of my future career.”

“…SPARK has been designed in a way that addressed my professional development from multiple different angles: research development as well as development as a physician in shaping my goals and career. In addition to the skills I have developed as a researcher, being able to meet with my research supervisor, career mentor, and community mentor, has provided with a wealth of different perspectives. I have been able to form various connections that have provided me with knowledge on medical training that I will be able to make use of during my time as a medical student and beyond.”

Application process:

A call for research supervisors has been issued and applications for SPARK are now open to start in the summer of 2024. Application deadline is March 15th, 2024. For more information about the program, please contact:

PDF icon. View the student application form »

For more information regarding opportunities to mentor, please contact: