Advocating for Aboriginal representation in the field of medicine - Dr. Roisin Dooley, Resident Spotlight

Growing up in a small town in Northwestern Ontario, Dr. Roisin Dooley was fortunate to have Aboriginal role models in medicine — a factor that made her goal of becoming a physician more achievable. Now, as a first-year resident in obstetrics and gynaecology, Dr. Dooley hopes to serve not only as a role model herself, but also as an educational resource on Aboriginal issues in her field of work.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Winnipeg, but was raised in Sioux Lookout, a small town in Northwestern Ontario.

What degrees do you have, and from what universities?
I have a Bachelor of Health Sciences from Western University, and a Doctor of Medicine from the University of British Columbia.

What special interests or hobbies do you have?
I enjoy spending time outdoors, doing activities such as canoeing, kayaking and fishing during the summer. In the winter I like to play hockey and ski, both downhill and cross-country. I also love spending time with family and friends, playing board games and just hanging out.

Why did you choose to pursue your residency at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?
Since completing my undergraduate degree at Western, I thought about how I had always loved and missed the sense of community that was present in London. Schulich Medicine & Dentistry also has an outstanding reputation across Canada for having a strong training program, which was a major reason why I had chosen to train in London. Furthermore, during the interview process I was thoroughly impressed by the faculty and how supportive and friendly they were during that time.

What inspires you in your work?
I find it difficult to think about not finding reasons to be inspired when working in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology every day. I may be biased, but I think being able to deliver babies every day is the most rewarding career in medicine. There is nothing like it.

Beyond the field of medicine I have chosen to practice, there is the fact I was fortunate to grow up with experiences and opportunities that were not readily available to many of my family members living in remote northern First Nation communities. I often think about how lucky I am to be able to be continuing my education and it motivates me to strive further, so that maybe one day I can help my extended family members and other youth thinking about a career in medicine or health care.

What has been your greatest experience to date in your residency?
I have only finished two months of my residency, so I am not sure if I can talk about one stand-alone experience. I started on service so it has solidified that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life, which is incredible. Every patient interaction is always special, but I have to say that the staff and fellow residents have been extremely welcoming and supportive. In only these past eight weeks with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, I already look up to many staff members and residents and hope to make them proud as a future OBGYN, which I think reflects on how great the program is here at the university.

What do you do when you're not working?
I touched on this earlier, but I enjoy travelling, visiting family and friends, playing squash, hockey, skiing, and canoeing. I definitely value and make the most of my time off.

Why is it important to you to speak out about increasing Aboriginal representation in medical schools and residency programs across Canada?
I think it’s important due to the fact that there is such a small representation of Aboriginal physicians currently in Canada, as well as in the post-secondary student population. I have come to realize that the Canadian education system truly does not give justice to issues surrounding Aboriginal peoples, which is why I think it is imperative to have Aboriginal physicians to serve not only as role models in communities, but also as an educational resource for fellow physicians or health care workers on surrounding Aboriginal issues in their fields.

I have often recounted stories to friends about how poor opportunities and living conditions are in northern First Nations communities to be greeted with utter shock and disbelief. The fact that that is an issue is a pinnacle reason why there should be more Aboriginal representation within the medical field. I hope to be a positive role model in the midst of these issues, especially in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, given that the Aboriginal population is the fastest growing in the country.

In your interview with the CBC, you speak about having aboriginal doctors as mentors growing up. How important do you think that is in order to inspire young aboriginal students to pursue careers in the field of medicine?
I think it is imperative to drive change and self-sustainability within Aboriginal communities. As I previously mentioned, there is an underrepresentation of Aboriginal students within the post-secondary school environment. I think having role models who are in professional fields such as medicine is important for youth to realize that careers in those fields are possible. I was fortunate enough to grow up with Aboriginal role models in medicine, which truly made my goal of becoming a physician more achievable. I hope I carry that on as a physician for any of my own family members or other Aboriginal youth who are thinking of entering this field.

Do you think there is still work to do in this area? If so, in your opinion what could Schulich Medicine & Dentistry do to increase this representation at the School?
I do believe there is more work to be done, but from my experiences I have found Western as a whole to be very open to do more. As an undergraduate student I worked for Indigenous Services as a Camp Coordinator for a summer camp that aimed to further Aboriginal secondary school attainment within Southwestern Ontario, so I believe that the university is motivated toward Aboriginal education.

In terms of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry specifically, I would say that pre-med outreach programs could be organized to increase interest in pursuing a career in medicine. A mentorship program between current Aboriginal medical students/residents and Aboriginal youth interested in a career in medicine would be a great initiative. This would also provide prospective students with a role model who would be a very useful resource for information around the application process. Currently, I have yet to meet another Aboriginal doctor in London but I am sure I will at some point and I look forward to any Aboriginal initiatives that develop while I am here to train.