Student Q&A: Experiencing Indigenous MedLINCS

Cassie Poole, Medicine Class of 2020, says she glimpsed her role as a future physician after taking part in the Indigenous MedLINCS program this summer.

Organized by the Office of Distributed Education, the program places medical students from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry with the Chippewas of Nawash and Saugeen First Nation communities in the Grey-Bruce region. With the aim of encouraging more young people to pursue post-secondary education in health-related fields, medical students engage youth in the communities through activities and field trips during their six-week placement. The students also participate in clinical experiences at the Wiarton Hospital and Grey-Bruce Health Services throughout their time in the region.

We spoke to Cassie about her experience with the program and the valuable new perspectives she gained as a medical learner and future medical professional.

What inspired you to participate in the Indigenous MedLINCS program?

Having grown up in an area with a large First Nations population and being Métis myself, I’ve always been surrounded by Indigenous cultures. When I learned about this program I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to expand my own knowledge and gain skills in cultural competency, so that in the future I may provide the highest possible standard of care to Indigenous patients, and become a positive ally and advocate.

Canada needs greater representation of Indigenous peoples in areas such as medicine, and I hoped that by interacting with Indigenous youth and developing/assisting with programs leading to positive experiences with the Canadian health care system, I might help spark an interest in post-secondary education and particularly health-related fields.

Describe your experience in the communities. What activities were you involved in?

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to engage with the communities. They were very welcoming and I learned a lot while I was there. Kelly MacIsaac, a classmate and fellow Indigenous MedLINCS participant, and I participated in quite a few different activities. We helped organize and run tours of Western University and Georgian College, and participated in health and wellness programs for Indigenous youth. We were also leaders for a three-day camp with Indigenous youth, which was a wonderful opportunity to get to know some of the kids. We facilitated (and participated!) in fun activities, including a low ropes course and an escape room, and lead some sessions teaching casting and suturing.

Given that I didn’t have much casting and suturing experience before this summer, running sessions for both the camp and the Mini-University were a great way to enhance my own skills – and keep up the enthusiasm for learning them.

What is your favourite memory from your Indigenous MedLINCS experience?

I have two favourite memories from this experience. When the students from Nawash came to Western to participate in the Mini-University program, I was walking to meet them. They were on a bus and recognized me as they were driving by. The students started tapping on the windows to get my attention, and the bus driver pulled over to let me get on with them. It was a sweet moment and great to see that kind of relationship develop after having known them for only a few days.

Also, during one of our suturing activities, a student asked me if I had ever sutured on a person before. Thanks to the clinical experience we received as a part of Indigenous MedLINCS, I could say yes. It was a moment of realizing just how much privilege we are given as medical students, and how important it is to respect that privilege.

What were the big ‘takeaways’ or lessons for you?

It continues to surprise me just how much of Indigenous history and culture is left out of mainstream Canadian education, and seeing how this has a direct impact on youth living in Canada was an extremely valuable experience for me. I also gained a new perspective on how Indigenous cultural practices can be incorporated into my own future approach to medical practice.

How does this type of experience enhance your medical education?

I cannot emphasize enough how important this experience was for me. For the first time I caught a glimpse of the type of role I will play as a future medical professional, and gained a better understanding of exactly what I want to do with that role. As a doctor in Canada, I will inevitably be working with Indigenous patients and perhaps entire communities. I believe it is my responsibility as a physician to ensure that I am culturally competent and willing to listen if I’m to provide the best possible care to my Indigenous patients.

Thanks to Dr. Kim and the Office of Distributed Education – they put a lot of work into making programs like this possible.