November 29, 2021 | Volunteer & Awards

U of T medical student Nicole Mfoafo-M'Carthy named a Rhodes Scholar

By Erin Howe

Nicole Mfoafo-M'Carthy smiles as she stands hand on hip in a garden outdoors.

(Photo courtesy of Nicole Mfoafo M'Carthy)

Nicole Mfoafo-M’Carthy, a second-year medical student at the University of Toronto, is one of 11 Canadians selected this year to receive a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. 

The Rhodes Scholarship covers expenses for a postgraduate degree at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and is awarded to exceptional, public-spirited leaders from around the world. It identifies and supports young people with potential to make a positive impact on the world. 

One way Mfoafo-M’Carthy is seeking to make an impact is through research. She has a keen interest in workplace policy related to gender, disability and intersectionality. 

There's a tremendous opportunity to explore what can make workplaces safer and better for everyone

“Work is such a large part of many people’s lives, but differences between the experiences of people of different genders are often overlooked – especially how gender interacts with our other social identities and positions such as disability,” she says. “There's a tremendous opportunity to explore what can make workplaces safer and better for everyone.”  

Mfoafo-M’Carthy, an MD student in U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, began to explore this area during her undergraduate studies at the University of Calgary. Her thesis focused on mental health in gendered workplaces, and how employers can create more inclusive policies that account for diversity and individual needs. 

At U of T, Mfoafo-M’Carthy is working on a qualitative assessment of moral injury – the cognitive and emotional response after events that go against a person’s own moral code – in long-term care workers. As part of the project, Mfoafo-M'Carthy looks at how people working in long-term care experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, and what could have been done to better support them. At the University of Oxford, she plans to pursue her interest in the intersection of health and policy.  

I was fortunate to receive so much support from people here at U of T

Mfoafo-M’Carthy, who is also a junior fellow at Massey College, says she always intended to pursue a master’s degree or doctorate, but was unsure about timing. She never dreamed that one of the world’s most highly regarded scholarships would give her the opportunity. 

As she prepares to join the network of more than 4,500 Rhodes Scholars worldwide, Mfoafo-M'Carthy says her story is one of community. 

“If someone had told me when I arrived at U of T last fall that I would become a Rhodes Scholar, I’d never have imagined it,” she says. “But over time, and with more exposure to the opportunities here, I could see how this opportunity aligned with what I wanted for myself. And I was fortunate to receive so much support from people here at U of T.”  

Among her supporters, Mfoafo-M'Carthy lists U of T faculty and alumni Ayelet Kuper (MD 2001, MEd 2007)Marcus Law (BSc 1996 UC, MD 2000, MEd 2013)Tony Pignatiello (MD 1987) and Jennifer Bryan (PGMT 2012), who was her mentor through the diversity mentorship program. She also credits neurology resident Victoria Reedman (BSc 2016 TRIN, MD 2020), who encouraged her to apply to Rhodes, and notes that many faculty members extended their support throughout the application process, helping her prepare for the two-day long interview. 

Mfoafo-M'Carthy says her experiences as a mentee helped cement her own commitment to mentoring others in the community. She received mentorship through Community of Support and, after she was accepted to the MD program, became a mentor herself. 

A mentor herself, she also created a program for girls from immigrant families and a career non-profit for youth

Mfoafo-M'Carthy is heavily involved with the Black Medical Students Association as a mentor and as co-director of community outreach. As well, she is a committee member for the Ontario Medical Association’s OMA Women. 

In 2015, she created Gurl, a mentorship program in Calgary for girls from immigrant families between the ages of nine and 13. Gurl continues to operate and provide participants with a sense of community.  

Mfoafo-M'Carthy also founded a non-profit organization called Career Match, which ensures youth are provided with the tools and resources to make informed decisions about their careers. The organization provides networking opportunities along with career fair events to match students with mentors. 

Within days of learning she is headed to Oxford, Mfoafo-M'Carthy began to connect with other Rhodes Scholars, including a few at U of T. She says she is excited to embark upon her next academic adventure at Rhodes House in Oxford, but is still taking in the big news.   

Mfoafo-M'Carthy will begin her studies at the University of Oxford in September of 2022 and return to study in the MD program at U of T upon completion of her graduate degree. 

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