Future health professionals receive crucial training in Indigenous culture

Students from 11 of UBC's health-related programs will come together for the first time on Thursday for a new learning experience designed to help them better serve Indigenous people

Jason Min and Dakota Peacock

Image: Jason Min (left), a lecturer in UBC’s faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, plans to share with first-year medical student Dakota Peacock what he’s learned while working in Indigenous communities. UBC Public Affairs.

Attention assignment editors: Media can attend the inaugural workshop Oct. 19 from 10 a.m. to noon and interview students afterward. To attend, contact Erik Rolfsen: erik.rolfsen@ubc.ca or 604-209-3048.

The UBC 23-24 Indigenous Cultural Safety interdisciplinary learning experience was launched this month as a required component for students in dental hygiene, dentistry, dietetics, genetic counselling, medicine, nursing, midwifery, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physical therapy, and social work. Next year, students in audiology and speech language pathology will also take part.

The initiative is a response to two specific calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Action 23 in the commission's 2015 report calls for cultural competency training for all health-care professionals, and Action 24 calls for medical and nursing schools to have all students take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues.

"Cultural safety and humility training is moving from a place of being a wonderful addition or insightful add-on, to something that's non-negotiable in the training and education of professionals, academics and citizens of the country that we are trying to become," says Nadine Caron, co-director of UBC's Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health (CEIH). "We have the only medical school in B.C., the only dentistry school, the only pharmacy school, and the largest nursing school, and I think it's really important that we show leadership in this area."

UBC developed a curriculum that all health-care disciplines could share, bringing together a diverse group of students to develop this foundational knowledge. The students will then be better prepared to work in B.C., where embedding cultural safety in the health-care system has long been a goal of the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). In 2015, FNHA joined the Ministry of Health and six other health authorities in declaring a commitment to it. Earlier this year, 23 colleges that regulate B.C.'s health-care professions did the same.

"It's about dispelling stereotypes, and talking about strategies for building relationships and getting a deeper understanding of who people are as individuals," said Carrie Anne Vanderhoop, the education coordinator at CEIH who led development of the curriculum. "How do I connect with the people that I am supposed to be caring for, in order to provide quality, culturally safe care and ultimately achieve improved health outcomes?"

First-year medical student Dakota Peacock welcomes the chance to gain more exposure to Indigenous perspectives than his education has provided so far. "We had some Indigenous cultural teaching in high school, but in my opinion it was very superficial," Peacock says. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to find out what it is we're doing that works for Indigenous people, what doesn't work, and what we can learn about their cultures, spirituality and social structures to be able to serve them more effectively."

Peacock has already completed the first of five online modules that cover topics like Aboriginal history in Canada, the history of colonization, barriers to health-care access for Indigenous people, and racism -- all from an Indigenous perspective. Leaders such as Splatsin First Nation Chief Wayne Christian, University of the Fraser Valley Chancellor Gwen Point, and St'at'imc Nation Elder Gerry Oleman provide video lessons, along with links to further reading. Students progress through the modules by completing online assessments.

During Thursday's in-person workshop and another on Nov. 17, students will gather with Indigenous and faculty facilitators to examine their own cultural biases and talk about how they can become allies with Indigenous people in a health-care context.

Jason Min, a lecturer in the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, learned how this can help several years ago, after a difficult start as a UBC pharmacy graduate who travelled to serve Indigenous communities around B.C.

"I went into these communities with a very optimistic attitude that I could solve all their pharmacy-care needs," recalled Min, who will help facilitate the workshop as a faculty member. "Unfortunately, it was a very tough lesson. It was an incredibly steep learning curve."

Once Min realized he had much to learn from his Indigenous patients and embraced the idea that the learning process would not end, things began to change.

"I could see the clinical changes happening with my patients, and I could see the numbers improving, but that was only part of the picture," Min said. "The other part was that they were asking me to come back. That to me is the real barometer. That's really rewarding."

UBC Health, a consortium that enables collaboration across health programs at UBC, partnered with CEIH, a research, education and training centre in the faculty of medicine's school of population and public health, to deliver the new curriculum.