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Northern inspiration

First Indigenous learners award established in Faculty of Medicine

By Heidi Wicks

A generous gift from Dr. Alexander (Sandy) Macdonald (B.Med.Sci.’84, MD’86) will help an Indigenous learner from Newfoundland and Labrador or Nunavut further their medical education.

The Dr. W. Alexander (Sandy) Macdonald Bursary for Indigenous Learners is the first of its kind in the Faculty of Medicine. It will honour its first recipient in the upcoming academic year.

Inspired by colleagues

During his time as a medical student in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., Dr. Macdonald says he encountered a group of young Canadian family doctors who were delivering a “very high” standard of care to the people of Labrador. They inspired him to practise medicine in the North.

He travelled to the Inuit community of Nain and was deeply affected by what he saw there.

“Many of the people lived in shacks with cardboard in the windows,” he recalled.

“This was the first time I encountered Inuit people in my life, and I was taken aback by this group of people who lived in this harsh environment but who were also part of our country. They, too, are Canadians.”

After this experience, he resolved that he would provide the best health care he could for Indigenous people, especially Inuit.

“I enjoyed all my work in the North, but the 17.5 years I spent in Nunavut as a clinician, medical director and chief of staff was the best job for a family physician in Canada, particularly for anyone with any interest in Indigenous health. I was on the front-line of leading the development of a 21st-century, health-care system for the territory of Nunavut. It was amazing!”

Throughout his career, Dr. Macdonald’s leadership helped stabilize the physician workforce in the North.

He greatly increased the quantity and quality of physician care for the people of Nunavut.

Children take part in an igloo building contest during Toonie Tyme, the Iqaluit spring festival.
Children take part in an igloo building contest during Toonie Tyme, the spring festival in Iqaluit.
Photo: Submitted

“Given the small population in Labrador and Nunavut, it will be a long time before there are many Indigenous physicians there,” he said.

He emphasizes the importance of committed, non-Indigenous practitioners in providing good quality health care in the North until there is an adequate number of Indigenous physicians.

During his time in Nunavut, Dr. Macdonald established close ties with Memorial University to train family medicine residents.

He modelled his work on the Faculty of Medicine’s successful NunaFam program in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Inuit and Innu learners

Dr. Macdonald is now demonstrating his commitment to supporting Indigenous youth in their endeavour to study medicine or any health-care discipline through the establishment of a bursary in his name.

Small children play in front of a large stone inukshuk with the town of Rankin Inlet and the ocean in the background.
Children playing in Rankin Inlet.
Photo: Submitted

The bursary will be awarded annually to an Indigenous learner from Newfoundland and Labrador or Nunavut enrolled beyond the first year of their undergraduate doctor of medicine program at Memorial, on the recommendation of the dean of Medicine’s advisory committee on scholarships, bursaries and awards.

Preference will be given firstly to an Inuit or Innu learner who graduated from a high school in Labrador or Nunavut and secondly to an Indigenous learner who graduated from a high school in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Margaret Steele, dean of the Faculty of Medicine, says she is delighted with the bursary.

“We are committed to supporting our Indigenous medical students so that they may be successful in their studies and develop into socially accountable and competent physicians,” she said.

Because of Dr. Macdonald’s financial and professional support, and his love for the people and the North, the possibility for strong Indigenous physicians in the future looks bright.

For further information and to apply for this award, please contact the Office of Learner Well-Being and Success or email ScholarshipsUGME@mun.ca.

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