Why work in Indigenous health?
I asked some of my colleagues in the ARP why they work in Indigenous Health. Here’s what they had to say:
Dr. Janet Tapper, physiatrist, Elbow River Healing Lodge: "My children and husband are Indigenous. I am acutely aware of the systemic injustice in our country. When I hear stories of how our health care system has failed Indigenous people, it sometimes brings me to tears. It terrifies me that this injustice might land on my own family. There is a need for change and I hope I can contribute to that change."
Dr. Sajid Ali, family physician, Maskwacis (Samson Cree Nation): "Working with the Indigenous population as a family physician is a source of honor for me. These are a very refined but marginalized group of peoples in our society. Many unheard stories are embedded among them. I listen, and listen, and listen!”
Dr. Nicole Cardinal, family physician, Saddle Lake Cree Nation: “When my mother delivered one of her children, her physician was intoxicated. He came into the room the next day to apologize. My mom felt upset that the nursing staff/hospital allowed him to work and deliver her child. She felt like because he was the physician she was not able to voice her concern that this upset her. She now reflects on this feeling like she could have legally went after this man and she wishes she was able to speak up”.
“Now I am a physician in my community and I teach medical students Indigenous health as my way of contributing to education about Indigenous peoples. I try to teach about our community, the people, the social determinants of health that affect Indigenous peoples. I try to teach compassion to our students so when they encounter Indigenous patients they have an understanding of our people.”
Dr. Karishma Mehta, Outstanding Family Physician of the Year (patient-nominated, AHS Department of Family Medicine Calgary), Elbow River Healing Lodge and TsuuT’ina Nation: “I recently participated in a “blanket exercise”. It was a very powerful demonstration of the successive waves of repression. I want to be part of the hope in moving forward, to provide a safe place for those for whom "the system" has not been safe."
Dr. Sonya Regher, family physician, TsuuT’ina Nation: “I am a cancer survivor and when I came back, I wanted to do something meaningful.”
Dr. Seth Heckman, family physician, Maskwacis (Samson Cree Nation) OBGYN, “I think the health system is broken; nowhere more-so than on reserve. By fighting on the front lines, I hope to find solutions that will not only help indigenous peoples but also help us all.”
Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, family physician, Blood Tribe; medical director Indigenous Health SCN: "I had wanted to be a doctor since I was a 16-year-old Candy Striper. After witnessing the birth of a baby, the high school counsellor told me right off, when I expressed interest in going to med school, that I didn't have the ability to do it and that I should consider nursing or teaching. I half-believed him and really didn't believe I could, until my younger brother did go to med school. His premature death gave me the courage to try. I'm so glad I did; I am grateful to so many people for helping me along the way. Here I am, helping the community, applying my education to help my community to find solutions to health problems, helping other First Nations communities to find strategies to their health problems."
(June, 2019 – Winner of the Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada)
Dr. Matt Ray, family physician, Sikisika Nation and Elbow River Healing Lodge: "I was interested in International Health but clearly this is a population with similar needs. I think the culture is sophisticated and under-appreciated, and I feel lucky to be able to be an ally in the path to reconciliation …"
Dr. Alexandra Seal Grant, family physician, Bigstone Cree Nation: "In medical school, I worked with some preceptors who had negative attitudes about Indigenous patients. Their attitudes had a noticeable impact on communication and quality of care. I thought that I could do better."
References available upon request.