More Aboriginal students moving into Medicine
- EFN Staff | February 28, 2014
As Saskatchewan's demographic changes due to a rising Aboriginal population, some institutions are taking note including the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine, which is taking steps to ensure it is graduating more Aboriginal doctors to better reflect the population it's serving.
The Aboriginal Equity Program, sanctioned by the Human Rights Commission on Saskatchewan, was established in 1992 where three seats in the incoming first year class were reserved for students of Aboriginal ancestry. Before this, there were only three known students of Aboriginal ancestry who had graduated from the M.D. program. In the following six years, 14 Aboriginal students graduated.
That's why the college's Aboriginal Coordinator, Val Arnault-Pelletier, says the equity program has been successful.
"We have had growing numbers of Aboriginal applicants over the years, and growing interest from our Aboriginal students as they recognize community and family members graduating from the College," she explains. It snowballs, and now we are seeing interest from family members whose siblings are studying. For example, a First Nation student in second year has a sister who is very interested in Medicine as she sees her sister progress successfully through Medicine."
There have been graduates from First Nations and Métis communities across Saskatchewan, including Fond du Lac First Nation, La Loche, Starblanket, Poundmaker, and Little Pine, with more to come.
Seeing the success of the equity program, the number of equity seats was increased in 2006 from three seats to 10 per cent of the entering class (at the time that was six out of 60). Class sizes have continued to grow: 68 in 2007, 84 in 2008-2010, with 100 students in the 2012-2013 school year.
So far, there have been 45 Aboriginal graduates from the College of Medicine, and Arnault-Pelletier says the future is very encouraging with 41 Aboriginal students currently enrolled and expected to graduate in the next four years.
"There are also a large number of Aboriginal students in residency programs, bringing our total to 72."
Currently there are also seven Aboriginal students enrolled and studying in the Master of Physical Therapy program.
In addition to the equity program, there has also been an effort to include Aboriginal culture within the College of Medicine, something Arnault-Pelletier is important for all students in the college, not just Aboriginal students. These initiatives are included in the curriculum, ceremonies, symbolism, and other activities and programming, and ensure an Aboriginal student's reality is reflected in their studies so they are more likely to successfully complete their program.
"It helps create better understanding, opportunities for dialogue and teaching moments, and it helps to build community and bridge cultures," she says. "Our programming and activities also depict the strength and resiliency of our people, such as the Pow Wow Health Booth. There are many of us working together for better health outcomes and respectful ways to work with our people."
She points to the U of S Indigenous Health Committee and Aboriginal Health Education Working Group members (consisting of Aboriginal students, faculty and staff) who are powerful advocates for respectful inclusion of Aboriginal students, programming, curriculum, faculty development and community in all activities.
There are 17 initiatives in total. Some examples include a whitecoat ceremony where there is a Métis physician as a keynote speaker; including eagle feathers, star blankets, Métis sashes, Elders, sweat lodges at graduation ceremonies; a one-day orientation with Elders, role model physicians, and upper year students; a mentorship program; and an effort to incorporate Indigenous Knowledge into the curriculum.
Arnault-Pelletier knows from student feedback that these efforts are appreciated by Aboriginal students. She was told by a second year First Nations College of Medicine student: "The support I received from my family and the College of Medicine both financially and academically has made the journey easier and less stressful. Thank you for believing in me."
And, a post secondary counsellor from Muskoday told her: "The supports developed within this College are helping young Aboriginal people reach their full potential; exactly what every person deserves."
The bottom line, says Arnault-Pelletier, is we need more trained Aboriginal health professionals to work in the urban and rural contexts to provide the best quality healthcare to Aboriginal people, and society in general, as future leaders and role models.
"In addition, we need to improve our curriculum to respectfully include Indigenous knowledge so all students are trained and aware of the unique concerns, cultural protocols and historical and modern contexts of Aboriginal people. It is of benefit for society in general to have Aboriginal people trained in all areas and sectors, to be included and hired into professional positions, to earn good livings and have the opportunity to provide for their families."
Eagle Feather News recently profiled four Aboriginal students enrolled in Medicine:
Meet Jenna Shirley, 1st year Medicine student
Meet Hannah St. Denis-Katz, 2nd year Medicine student
Meet Adam McInnes, 3rd year Medicine student
Meet Karissa Brabant, 2nd year Medicine student