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 launched in the summer of 2021 as a pilot in the Sunnybrook department of medicine with funding from Sunnybrook, Sunnybrook department of medicine and Sunnybrook Research Institute. In 2023, the program will continue to be based in the department of medicine and will expand to include the departments of surgery and psychiatry, the Tory Trauma Research Program, Otolaryngology, Sunnybrook researchers supported by the Novo Nordisk Network for Healthy Populations, and the Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety (C-QIPS).

The SPARK program provides medical students with the opportunity to explore career opportunities in medical research and academic medicine while allowing those who have been historically underrepresented in various fields of medicine to compete more effectively for 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 in the program are hired full-time (10 weeks) to work on their research projects in the summer after the completion of their first year in medical school, and part-time (5-10 hours a week) during their second academic year. Students will engage with a specific research question with the support of their research supervisor over the course of the year. During SPARK, students will actively participate in research activities such as helping to develop and draft the protocol, applying to the research ethics board, assisting with data collection, analysis and interpretation, contributing to presentations and publications. Research projects will be led by faculty from participating departments. Students will rank their preferred projects and will be matched based on their preferences. The program prioritizes student experience and mentorship, providing each student with 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 2023. Application deadline is March 17th, 2023. For more information about the program, please contact:

PDF icon. View the student application form »

For more information regarding opportunities to mentor, please contact: