Nfld. & Labrador

MUN project helps Indigenous students become Healers of Tomorrow

Carolyn Sturge Sparkes, co-ordinator of the Indigenous Health Initiative, says an all-Indigenous roster of presenters for this year's Healers of Tomorrow series proves tremendous progress has been made to get more Indigenous people into health-care roles.

Indigenous Health Initiative prepares Indigenous high school students for careers in the medical field

Carolyn Sturge Sparkes, far left, stands with the Indigenous students who took part in Memorial University's Healers of Tomorrow program, which seeks to prepare Indigenous kids for careers in the medical field. (Submitted by Carolyn Sturge Sparkes)

A Memorial University program for Indigenous high school students considering careers in health care kicks off its fourth edition this week.

Starting Tuesday and running until Oct. 5, the biennial Healers of Tomorrow program consists of a series of virtual information sessions that expose students to the worlds of pharmacy, nursing, lab technology and other branches of medicine.

"The intent was to provide them that experience, to interact with health-care professionals and find out what the different professions were all about," Carolyn Sturge Sparkes, co-ordinator of the Indigenous Health Initiative, told CBC News.

Sturge Sparkes said the fourth instalment of Healers of Tomorrow is being offered virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The three-week program will feature recorded sessions that students can watch on their own time and will culminate in a Q&A session with health-care professionals and Indigenous leaders on the final day.

Sturge Sparkes said the fact that sessions will be offered exclusively by Indigenous presenters — a first in the program's six-year history — is proof of the "tremendous progress" made to get more Indigenous people into health-care roles.

The addition of niche areas like robotics to the program curriculum reflects the realities of the ever-changing world of medicine, Sturge Sparkes said: new technologies are continually being put to use in surgical procedures, and a robot is being used in Nain to diagnose patients.

"So it's important for students to be well aware of the vital part that technology plays now in the provision of health-care services to patients," Sturge Sparkes said.

The foundation for the Indigenous Health Initiative was laid in 2008 as part of a Memorial University project that sought to encourage Indigenous enrolment in the faculty of medicine. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The foundation for the Indigenous Health Initiative was laid in 2008 as part of a Memorial University project that sought to encourage Indigenous enrolment in the faculty of medicine, and to increase sensitivity in matters of Indigenous health.

The Indigenous Health Initiative's advisory board includes members from the Miawpukek First Nation, the Innu Nation of Labrador, Nunatsiavut, NunatuKavut, and the Qalipu First Nation, as well as Indigenous medical students at MUN.

The program operates a number of other initiatives to attract and retain Indigenous students to MUN's faculty of medicine, including outreach, pre-med mentoring and special financial assistance. 

Three seats in the undergraduate medical education program are also reserved for Indigenous students who live in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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