This week, the University of Manitoba hosted its White Coat Ceremony for 110 hopeful medical students but one person's journey is standing out from the pack.

As a child of a refugee and an immigrant, and living in a low-income neighbourhood, the odds were stacked against Mariel Talabis becoming a medical student.

Talabis's mom immigrated to Canada from the Philippines, and her dad is a refugee from South Sudan. Talabis says that came with its own challenges growing up in Winnipeg, and especially growing up in a low-income neighbourhood.

"Not a lot of my friends attended university or finished and just left that part of their life. I really want to be a person to sort of inspire others who may have some challenges and maybe have some doubts," she says. "It can be possible. If I can do it, they can do it as well."

Facing more barriers such as doubters, attending a high school that does not see many people go forward with their education, and lacking role models that looked like her, Talabis knew she had a tough goal in mind.

"I first kind of got the idea of going to medical school when I was in high school. There were some doubts from some people in my life, as well as people warning me that not everyone gets into medical school. I really tried to persevere and push myself."

Focussing on her education, Talabis spend many years working, leading her to Wednesday's ceremony.

The University of Manitoba's Inaugural Day Exercises and White Coat Ceremony had to be adjusted this year due to the pandemic and the students were not cloaked, as it is traditionally done.

Talabis's personal drive was highlighted even further this week as she cloaked herself with her white coat.

"I think us putting out coats on ourselves is really special and I think something we are going to remember for a long time because of the pandemic."

Also unique to her class is that all of their lectures will be online, and the social aspect of school will be significantly lower than the year previous.

"It is a bit motivating to be going into medical school when the pandemic is happening," she says. "Although you do not get to be in person for everything, it just shows how important the health of the community is."

mariel dr coat

The medical student has many years ahead of her before she becomes an official doctor, but she is looking forward to becoming a role model for children that look like her.

"Looking at how we can diversify out healthcare system so that our healthcare providers and our physicians especially, really look like Winnipeg and Manitoba, and all of the walks of life that we see."

Talabis wants people visiting a doctor to see that they belong, She adds that it is inspiring to see people who look like her in the medical profession.

"One thing that really draws me to medicine is looking at how people's backgrounds can really impact what the health outcomes are... I am really passionate about making healthcare more equitable for everybody."

Talabis says that she has seen how her family has struggled in the healthcare system and hopes to help change that. The medical student hopes to work with children in the future.