Nova Scotia

QEII bursaries aim to help health-care students from diverse backgrounds

The QEII Foundation is looking for health-care students to award its diversity in health-care bursaries. The program, funded by private donors, gives $1,000 to 25 students each year to students from diverse backgrounds. 

Program helping Mi'kmaw woman study psychology of racism and Arabic speaker study nursing

Susan Mullin said the foundation's diversity bursaries will improve the health-care system for everyone. (CBC)

The QEII Foundation is looking for health-care students to award its diversity in health-care bursaries.

The program, funded by private donors, gives $1,000 bursaries each year to students from diverse backgrounds. 

Susan Mullin is the CEO and president of the QEII Foundation, which raises money to support Halifax's QEII Health Sciences Centre. 

She said the program was started "to really help shine a light on what was the real potential of these bursaries to allow Nova Scotians to see themselves reflected in the health system."

The foundation awards 25 bursaries a year to students studying post-secondary health care in Nova Scotia. They're looking for new candidates until April 6. 

How racism harms health

Jocelyn Paul received a bursary in 2020 to help her study for her PhD in clinical psychology at Dalhousie University. Paul was raised with First Nations in B.C. before moving to Nova Scotia, the homeland of her Mi'kmaw father.

Jocelyn Paul is studying how racism harms people. She said receiving the QEII Foundation bursary showed her that her work is important. (QEII Foundation)

She learned about racism from a young age. 

"I started to notice within a school setting, there was a difference. There was a difference between how Indigenous children were treated and how children that weren't Indigenous were treated," she said.

Sometimes it was obvious, like Pioneer Days celebrating European culture, but never mentioning First Nations. Other times it was about who got picked at gym classes, or even, in little kids, who held whose hand. 

'Always felt like there was a disconnect'

"I noticed there was not only what seemed like an invisible physical barrier, but also I noticed there were social factors that I was picking up on that something always didn't feel right. There always felt like there was a disconnect. But I never really understood what that was." 

She said getting the bursary helped financially, but more importantly it helped her feel that her work was important. She's studying how racism harms people and wants to develop a system that heals people using the best of Western approaches, like cognitive behavioural therapy, with Indigenous approaches. 

Paul said that to some Indigenous people, a psychologist's questions might sound too blunt, and the traditional 50-minute session abrupt. Using more open questions, or inviting the person to bring an elder or relative, might create a more helpful approach, she said. 

"I think it's important to really listen. I think sometimes we ask questions to people of diverse cultures, but we don't really listen and we don't really do anything with those answers."

Paul said dealing with other people's overt or covert racism can deteriorate mental and physical health. But if people utilize the power of their own culture, they can grow in a way that strengthens their health. 

Ahmed Esmat said he chose nursing after he saw how well nurses cared for his father when he was in hospital. (CBC)

Ahmed Esmat is a second-year nursing student at Dalhousie University. He also works at the YMCA Centre for Immigrant Service helping newcomer youth get settled in Canada. 

He thought about a career in engineering, but wanted a more hands-on job, so he switched to nursing. He was born in the United Arab Emirates and raised in Canada, so he speaks Arabic and English fluently. 

"I started working at the time when a lot of the Syrian refugees came in, so I saw that I was able to actually speak to them, communicate with them and help them in school and stuff," he said. "And when I went into [clinical situations], I saw the same thing, where specific patients, if they had language barriers, I was able to talk to them and make them feel more at home."

Struggling to understand care plan

Esmat said people in hospital are often sick and stressed out, and trying to communicate in a second language can make it harder. Translators help, but often it's a slow process through a computer translator. He said many Arabic speakers feel embarrassed if they struggle in English. 

"A lot of the time when you have trouble communicating, they might need something, but they're not able to tell you what it is, or they don't understand what's the plan of care that's being given to them. So it's relaxing for them to finally be able to understand and tell you what they need."

He said knowing the bursary money comes from regular people donating their own cash gives him an extra sense of responsibility.

"Just knowing there's a foundation like that who puts time and effort into providing a bursary to make sure there is diversity in health care is honestly inspiring," he said.