Canada’s 1st female Indigenous surgeon on racism in health care system

As Canada’s first female First Nations general surgeon, Dr. Nadine Caron says she knows, first-hand, that there’s a lot of work to be done to tackle institutional racism and encourage Indigenous youth to seek careers in health care.

Caron practices in northern British Columbia and also works as a teacher at the University of Northern British Columbia’s medical school in Prince George, B.C. Throughout her career, she says she has witnessed racism and experienced it firsthand at work.

“I hear it. I hear it from patients,” Caron told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “I hear about experiences they’ve had in the past – that they’ve had in other places – and then all you can do is change the here and now and make sure it’s different in the future.”

Caron is tackling systemic discrimination in the medical profession through education. As part of her work at the University of Northern British Columbia, Caron is helping to create a new curriculum to train future health care professionals on how to prevent racism against Indigenous people in the profession.

“They’re going to enter the workforce with, not only the tools to be able to have the ability to have that cultural safety and humility, but they’re also going to leave with the responsibility that they don’t have an option this time around,” she explained.

Caron is also working on combating the problem of access to healthcare that is widespread in many northern First Nations and rural communities. Long wait times, high rates of staff turnover, inadequate human resources and harsh climates make it difficult to provide adequate services.

Even though they can’t change the weather, Caron said improved technologies, such as telehealth, has made health care more accessible for those in isolated regions. She also said they’re training more physicians to increase staff in those areas and ensuring those medical professionals are equipped with “cultural competency” and “humility” to work effectively in those communities.

Eventually, Caron said she hopes there will be more Indigenous medical professionals, so that it’s no longer considered a “big deal” or anything out of the ordinary.

“When you walk in and you have a Metis surgeon, an Inuit doctor, a First Nations dentist, when you no longer blink an eye, we’ve made it,” she said.

For any First Nations youth considering a career in health care, Caron advised them to focus on something that they will be passionate about.

“It’s hard,” Caron said. “It’s a challenging career but if you love something, it’s always harder to turn it down than to do it.”

Caron is in Toronto this week to participate in a discussion on citizenship and inclusion at an annual three-day event called 6 Degrees Citizen Space.

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