Indigenous physician brings unique perspective to her practice

Dr. Lisa Monkman overcame some challenging circumstances on her path to becoming a physician. Now she brings an indigenous perspective to her medical practice. But there's not enough indigenous health care professionals in Manitoba. A new website, launching today, is trying to close that gap.

New website addresses need for more aboriginal health care professionals in Manitoba

Dr. Lisa Monkman brings together western medicine and indigenous values in her practice. (

Dr. Lisa Monkman overcame some challenging circumstances on her path to becoming a physician. Now she works in Dauphin, and brings an indigenous perspective to her practice.

But there's not enough indigenous health care professionals in Manitoba. A new website, launching today, is trying to close that gap. 

Besides connecting people to career resources it also tells the personal stories of some of the health care professionals in our province, including Dr.Monkman.

The Ojibway doctor spoke with Marcy Markusa, on CBC's  Information Radio. 

You’re a doctor in Dauphin, what do you love about it?

I love the variety in terms of my daily routine and schedule. That’s part of the beauty of it, you get do something different every single day. Also living rurally and working rurally you really get to know people on a more personal level, you get to know who they are in the context of their own lives.You really become familiar with the things that stop them from achieving an optimal health status.

Tell me about your younger years.

I grew up in the inner city of Winnipeg. My parents moved us to the city when I was really young because they wanted us to have more educational opportunities, more employment opportunities and essentially they wanted to provide a better life for us.

Lisa Monkman grew up in the inner city of Winnipeg. (
​​When we lived in the inner city of Winnipeg, we started off on social assistance and that was a big barrier, and that was something my parents really struggled with. We didn’t notice or feel it as much as children, but I know my parents really worked hard to get us out of poverty.

We moved around a lot, had to switch schools frequently, I basically experienced first hand what it was like to not fit in and not know how to fit it for a good length of time. It was really isolating and really sort of lonely for me during my younger years.

Did you have any health care role models growing up?

I had a few actually. At the University of Manitoba there was a cohort of Indigenous physicians who graduated in the early 80’s, and they were the first indigenous [[physicians] to graduate from the University of Manitoba and that wasn’t that long ago. 

What were some of the biggest challenges along your way?

When I was studying before medicine  and wanting to do medicine, part of the issues were finances. So you had to be fully willing to accept a lot of student debt and also to spend a good deal of time applying for bursaries and scholarships.

It’s a really intense course load, so you have to fully commit yourself and your life, and make a lot of sacrifices in terms of spending time with your friends and family in order to make it happen.

Why is the blending of western medicine and Indigenous beliefs and values so important to you?

I think that western medical practice provides you with very rigorous training but it is disease focused and it often misses the other aspects of the individual — like the very holistic way of looking at personal health and well being incorporating your emotional, spiritual, mental and physical health.

So I think that the beauty of Indigenous health practices lays with the fact that they look at the broader picture, it’s not sub-specialized or narrowly focused in anyway. 

How do you incorporate indigenous values into your everyday life?

I pray regularly, smudge frequently and offer tobacco as well. I also incorporate meditation and prayer into daily life, I believe in the tradition a lot.

I’m also a fancy dancer, sing with hand drum, and go to sweats regularly. Every summer I go to sun dances and it has made me thankful for everyday essentials like walking, breathing, clean drinking water. It really strips away ego, gets rid of mental stress, everything from a day-to-day basis disappears.

What are you hoping that people will get when they see your story on the Manitoba Aboriginal Health are Careers site that is launching today?

I hope they’ll just put a face to a name and feel in some way a connection with my story, and be encouraged to continue in their own journeys. I also really appreciate how easy the website makes it to access all the information you need, the education path to funding opportunities to bursaries and scholarships.

Then obviously the mentorship that they tried to create there, so hopefully it won’t matter how remote your community is you’ll still be able to just click on this one link and be able to access that information.

With files from Maggie Moose.