Why Giving Matters

INSPIRING INDIGENOUS YOUTH TO PURSUE HEALTH SCIENCE

June 15, 2017

Jessica Barudin at her convocation with McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier. photo: Owen Egan

by Juliet Waters

Jessica Barudin, MSc(PT)’15, brings personal insight to her role as manager of the Faculty of Medicine’s Indigenous Health Professions Program, a 10-year plan to recruit more students from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

At her convocation two years ago, Barudin was joined by four generations of her family, including her first child, born near the end of her master’s in physical therapy.

“My daughter was a huge blessing, but motherhood was a challenge,” she says, adding that the challenge is not uncommon for Indigenous students. As a demographic, they are more likely to have children. They are also more likely to be mature students, according to the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada.

Many Indigenous students, especially those from the north, face an extra financial burden as well: the high cost of transportation home. This was the case for Barudin, who is Kwakwaka’wakw from the ’Namgis First Nation in Alert Bay, British Columbia.

Fortunately, Barudin received the philanthropic support that she needed, but there are, she explains, still “a lot of barriers and gaps,” leaving too many Indigenous students underfunded and relying on student loans.

Things are changing though. Most recently, the Angle-Lacroix family pledged $25,000 to the Faculty’s Indigenous health initiatives, including discretionary support to Indigenous students.

“Over the last two years quite a bit of work has been done towards creating an Indigenous health curriculum, and establishing more Indigenous health content throughout the first four years of the undergraduate medical program,” adds Barudin.

With the help of alumni and friends like the Angle-Lacroix family, and Indigenous communities within the Réseau Universitaire Intégré de Santé, which serves regional Quebec populations, she is expanding these efforts. The work now involves the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy, the School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, and the Ingram School of Nursing. Other McGill partners in this endeavour include the School of Social Work, the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition and the Faculty of Dentistry.

“What I’m looking forward to is the next generation of students interested in pursuing careers in health having the support and the backing from the University to be able to succeed and thrive in all aspects of their lives,” Barudin says.

Dr. Kent Saylor is the Director of the Indigenous Health Curriculum and Director and Co-founder, Indigenous Health Professions Program. He says programs like this cannot come soon enough.

“Given the great discrepancies between Indigenous health outcomes in Canada and those in other communities, we believe Indigenous health care providers are desperately needed to provide long-term solutions. At the current rate of training of Indigenous students in health care fields, it will take decades to train enough Indigenous health care providers to provide for even basic services.”

Dr. Saylor sees hope in the new programs. “The Indigenous Health Professions Program has begun this process for change. We hope to continue this work to explore all avenues to recruit, train and support more Indigenous health care professionals.”

He sees potential benefits for McGill students as well as for Indigenous community partners.

“All McGill students will benefit from a variety of learning experiences, including lectures, workshops and more clinical experiences with Indigenous peoples.”

Jessica Barudin graduated in Spring 2015 with a Master’s degree in Physical and Occupational Therapy. She was joined by 10 members of her family for her convocation ceremony at McGill. Among them were four generations of women – including her grandmother and mother, her sister, her niece and baby daughter. Watch the video below.