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Healers of tomorrow

Indigenous students gather at Grenfell Campus for health careers camp

Student Life

By Michelle Osmond

Although Sophie Bennett always knew she wanted a career in health, she wasn’t sure exactly where.

Then, in 2015, she attended the first Healers of Tomorrow Gathering, a health careers summer camp for Indigenous youth. The camp is an opportunity to explore a cross-section of college and university health careers, including Aboriginal cultures and medicines.

A student and a teacher using a simulated arm to learn intravenous skills
From left, Sophie Bennett learns how to insert an IV with Andrea Crowe from the simulation centre.
Photo: Jan Warren

Now, Ms. Bennett, who hails from St. George’s, N.L., is studying for a bachelor of nursing degree at Memorial’s Centre for Nursing Studies. In fact, four of the students who attended the 2015 camp are now studying nursing.

“Before attending the Healers of Tomorrow Gathering, I was not considering a career in nursing,” said Ms. Bennett.

“The gathering provided me with a lot of knowledge on the program and along with the hands-on experience, and presentations from registered nurses, I realized it was what I truly wanted to pursue.”

That’s the result Dr. Carolyn Sturge Sparkes, co-ordinator of the Aboriginal Health Initiative (AHI), is hoping for.

More funding, more students

The AHI was awarded $65,000 from the International Grenfell Association to fund this year’s Healers of Tomorrow Gathering, an increase from 2015.

That first year, they accepted 12 students. This year, of the 21 students who will attend, 20 are from Newfoundland and Labrador and, for the first time, one is from Nunavut.

“The camp also made me realize that someday I hope to work in my community as a health-care provider.” — Sophie Bennett

From Aug. 13-20, the students, ranging from Grade Nine students to first-year university, will stay at Grenfell Campus. They’re students that have expressed interest in health care as a career; not just medicine, but nursing, pharmacy, social work, kinesiology, paramedicine, chiropractic, occupational therapy, medical administration, dentistry, dietician or others.

“We’re hoping that enough of them still have a strong connection with their communities that they’ll want to go back and practise in their communities or set up a practice in a region where they have people from their communities come and seek medical services,” Dr. Sturge Sparkes said. “They know their culture, they know the people and if they’re from Innu communities, they speak the language. That makes a big difference in patient-professional relationships.”

Sophie Bennett practises on a mannequin at the 2015 Healers of Tomorrow Gathering.
Sophie Bennett practises on a mannequin at the 2015 Healers of Tomorrow Gathering.
Photo: Jan Warren

“The gathering allowed me to feel more connected with my community and culture,” Ms. Bennett said. “The camp also made me realize that someday I hope to work in my community as a health-care provider.”

The first gathering focused mainly on learning. This year, participants will have the opportunity to partake in Indigenous practices like medicine walks, singing and drumming, and smudging.

Community strength

Dr. Sturge Sparkes says the schedule covers a cross-section of different professions to show the students different possibilities. It also includes presentations from Indigenous elders.

“I want the students to see that Western knowledge is not the only knowledge of health and well-being, that Indigenous people inherently carry vast knowledge and information about health and well-being. So, it will help to build a sense of self and see the strengths within their own communities.”

Ms. Bennett says the camp set her on the right path. Her future plans are to finish her bachelor of nursing degree, and then continue her education by either completing a master’s in nursing and becoming a nurse practitioner, or attending medical school and becoming a family doctor.

“[Education] can transform them.” — Dr. Carolyn Sturge Sparkes

Dr. Sturge Sparkes says the program is worth the work that goes into it. She says that, with education, “you never know” the end result and sometimes it takes years to find out.

“It can transform them. Young people are always worth the investment. A program like this gives them the opportunity to not only choose, but to give back to their community, to be productive community members, with the skills to contribute.”

The Aboriginal Health Initiative in the Faculty of Medicine focuses on bridging programs, services and programs designed to recruit more Aboriginal students into the Faculty of Medicine and heightened cultural sensitivity of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students on issues of Aboriginal health and health-care services. Three seats within the Faculty of Medicine are specifically designated for students of Aboriginal ancestry residing in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The International Grenfell Association (IGA) is a non-profit organization that was started in 1892 by British medical missionary Sir Wilfred T. Grenfell to provide health care, education, religious services, rehabilitation and other social services to the fisherman and coastal communities of Northern Newfoundland and Labrador.

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