April 1, 2017

Barb Cowley | Former barrel racer enjoys working with the community

Spending time around horses while growing up gave Barb Cowley some insights into how to work well with people.

Spending time around horses while growing up gave Barb Cowley some insights into how to work well with people.

“I think it did to a certain extent, because you have to be calm and patient around horses,” says Barb, who is a program co-ordinator for Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). “You have to be sensitive to how they are behaving and respect their space, yet give firm, consistent direction.”

A former recreational barrel racer who rode horses on her uncle’s farm, she currently spends some of her spare time volunteering with Draft Horse Town at the Calgary Stampede. “The draft horses can be intimidating to many people because they’re so big, but they’re really gentle giants,” she says.

Barb enjoys helping the community. She is also a volunteer on the Calgary Stampede Downtown Attractions Committee and the Calgary Grey Cup Committee, as well as being a cross-country ski coach for Special Olympics athletes.

Her work at CSM includes being the co-ordinator for the Pathways to Medicine Scholarship program, which is designed to support the enrolment and success of future medical students from traditionally under-represented groups throughout Alberta. These range from high school students from low-income families (as defined by Revenue Canada’s Low Income Cut-off guide) to rural and Indigenous communities, she says.

Up to five students are selected each year under the program, whose pilot year was 2016-2017. Each successful candidate receives $5,000 per year towards tuition in the undergraduate program of their choice at the University of Calgary, a relocation allowance up to $1,000 if from out of town, and a summer internship of $6,000 after their third year, says Barb.

The students are connected with mentors from the faculty, the student body, and the community, she says. “Students are provided enrichment opportunities such as a seminar series, clinical shadowing, participating as ambassadors of the program at schools and events, and mentorship of incoming candidates,” she says.

Once their undergraduate degree is completed, students are guaranteed admission – assuming certain criteria are met – into the university’s MD program.

Barb is also the program co-ordinator for the faculty’s Aboriginal Health Program. CSM is committed to improving Indigenous peoples’ health by addressing the under-representation of Indigenous people in medicine, as well as by promoting health service improvements for all Indigenous peoples in Alberta through Indigenous Health professional education.

“The program engages with the community to build interest in medicine as a career, facilitate recruitment of Indigenous learners into our institution, and supporting learners in realizing their goal of being a physician,” says Barb.

Such support includes academic, professional and community mentorship. The program fosters opportunities for Indigenous medical students to connect with local Indigenous community and culture through ceremony, learning sessions, and informal access to Indigenous medical peers and cultural advisors.

Barb sees her work in Community Engagement as building bridges between CSM and Albertans from all walks of life. “It’s not so much serving the community as collaborating and working with them to find out what their needs are, and how the CSM can partner with them,” she says. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me.”

Tidbits from Barb

Where would like to see the Cumming School of Medicine in another 50 years: There is so much opportunity to grow, especially when you look through the lens of community engagement.

What advice would you give to incoming staff: Listen, observe, ask questions, get to know your team, and support each other.

Do you have a personal motto: Be the best you can be.