Unreserved

Doctor of pharmacy incorporates traditional ways of learning into classroom

He is thought to be the first Indigenous doctor of pharmacy but Jaris Swidrovich didn’t always want to go into pharmacy. He wanted to be an actor.
Jaris Swidrovich is a doctor of pharmacy and member of Yellow Quill First Nation, Sask. (Submitted)

He is thought to be the first Indigenous doctor of pharmacy but Jaris Swidrovich didn't always want to go into pharmacy. He wanted to be an actor.

When Swidrovich was 19-years-old, he and his sister got jobs helping out the Indspire Awards — an event to showcase and celebrate Indigenous success stories. This was the first time he was exposed to pride in the Indigenous culture.

"Growing up, I never really learned too much about myself and where I came from and my heritage and background," said Swidrovich.

His maternal grandmother was a residential school survivor who passed away before Swidrovich was born. His mother is a 60s Scoop survivor, who was in non-Indigenous foster care most of her upbringing.

"She didn't get the opportunity to learn about herself and her background and her culture so she didn't have a lot to pass on to me."

Finding pride in culture

It was during the Indspire Awards that Swidrovich took part in pipe ceremonies and talking circles for the first time. He learned from traditional dancers about the significance of their regalia and the different dances.

Swidrovich was inspired by the people he met, some from his home community of Yellow Quill First Nation who knew family member of his whom he had never met.

If he had never worked with Indspire on the Saskatoon show, he may never have taken the steps he has in his career.

He is the creator and chair of a national Indigenous health pharmacist specialty network. He also lectures at the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan where he is Indigenizing the curriculum.

In his second year of pharmacy school, they had a guest lecturer speak about gifting elders with tobacco. Swidrovich remembers some of the students laughing, so he spoke up and explained that it wasn't akin to asking them to go for a cigarette.

Bringing it to the classroom

He realized how little students were taught about Indigenous peoples in pharmacy and other health science professions — something as simple as the differences between First Nations, Métis and Inuit hadn't been discussed.

Now, Swidrovich implements Indigenous ways of learning and knowing into his lectures.

One example of this is smaller class sizes and conversational-type lectures instead of a professor lecturing to 90 students at a time.

"We often find ourselves  being most comfortable in places and territories that are familiar to us."

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