By Kelly Many Guns
The UBC Faculty of Medicine’s Aboriginal Admissions program continues to be the leader among post-secondary institutions to graduate Aboriginal medical students since its’ inception, 14 years ago.
James Andrews, UBC Aboriginal Student Initiatives Coordinator, who recruits and supports Aboriginal medical students, says that in 2016 eight more students have graduated, bringing the total to 62 that have successfully completed UBC’s medical Aboriginal admissions program.
“Last year (2015) was a milestone year, in that we hit our initial vision to see 50 aboriginal medical graduates by 2020,” Andrews said. “I am proud of them all. I was asked by a colleague if I get tired of this, my response was, ‘Heck no!’ I have seen these individuals as pre-med students, now I witness their graduation and later as practicing physicians which is pretty cool.”
Interest in the program has grown since it began in 2002 when they received seven applicants, and two were admitted, the Aboriginal admissions program now averages 20 to 25 applicants per year.
The program was designed to increase the number of Aboriginal medical students and physicians in British Columbia. Academic success of Aboriginal students is contingent upon early educational engagement. Programs such as the Pre-Admissions Workshop (conducted by the Division of Aboriginal People’s Health) introduce science and medical career role models to young Aboriginal students and foster academic success by early engagement and recruitment. Aboriginal MD students also serve as mentors to applicants in the pre-admissions stage, forging strong relationships and systems of peer support.
“I have heard several individuals praising our program,” Andrews said, “saying they soon hope to see our program a common place, my response is still, we have decades to go. We need at least 300 Aboriginal physicians in BC in order to make an impact on our Aboriginal people’s health. We aren’t even a quarter the way there yet. In Canada we need 3000 Aboriginal physicians, but the best guestimate is 300. Our work isn’t close to being done.”
Among the eight UBC medical Aboriginal admissions program graduates in 2016 are Nathan Teegee, a 30 year old member of Takla Lake First Nation who always wanted to enter the medical field, and Lara De Roches, a 30 year old Metis who plans to practice in an urban setting, providing full scope care.
Teegee, has been studying medicine for eight years, including his undergraduate degree at University of Toronto (pre-medical studies in physiology and psychology), and did training for four years.
First Nations Drum asked Teegee if he would recommend the UBC medical undergraduate aboriginal program to future med students?
“Yes, 100%. UBC provides a very supportive learning environment for Aboriginal students. James Andrew, who coordinates Aboriginal programs, works within the Faculty of Medicine Office of Student Affairs, and he runs the pre-admissions workshop and offers support once you are admitted. I was part of one of the very first pre-med workshops in Vancouver, BC when I was in Grade 12, almost a decade ago. I was very driven back then, and likely now as well, but the amount of distractions and competitive AAA hockey that took place in High School had to be managed along with acquiring straights As.”
Teegee, studied at UBC’s Northern Medical Program (NMP), where he completed the same training and standards as every other student as an Aboriginal in the program.
“The Aboriginal admission program allows you to be admitted as an Aboriginal and you need to meet the standards of the general admissions plus have some proof that you are of aboriginal ancestry, and then after that if you are accepted for an interview, you have an additional interview with the Aboriginal selection committee. In one respect it can make things harder to get in, but on the other hand, the committee can really vouch for you if they really like you. But you won’t even be looked at without the pre-requisites, the GPA, and the Medical College Admissions Test.”
The NMP Teegee studied in Prince George, BC, is one of the satellite campuses of UBC. It allows students to work in a demographic that includes a large proportion of Aboriginal patients. Teegee says the patients demanded the medical program so that more graduates might stay and work in the north, so they are very invested, and allow med students to participate in their care; he had the privilege of doing consults and procedures that his colleagues might not have had the chance to elsewhere.
Teegee considers his grandmother one of his role models.
“She was a traditional woman who had many medicines and knowledge and the demeanor to help others. I think this was most important for me, her wisdom and her role in my upbringing is by far the most important. And it’s not just my grandmother, it was the entire Teegee family, and my in-laws, the Banaj family, that have supported me in my studies and continue to serve as good role models.”
Up next for Teegee is that he’s been accepted into the Dermatology residency program at UBC. He has moved to Vancouver’s lower mainland and will begin his 5-year residency program in July 2016 and looks forward to more learning and specializing in skin care and diseases of the skin.
Lara De Roche, has devoted most of her life to the field of medicine, including four years with UBC and has worked as a registered nurse between nursing and medical degrees in mental health, addictions, and advanced dementia.
“I plan on completing a masters of biomedical and healthcare ethics over the 2016-2017 academic year. I am most interested in maternity care and have interests in both fields of obstetrics and gynecology as well as family medicine,” Said De Roche. “I have a special interest in caring for underserved population, such as those afflicted by poverty, substance abuse, and mental issues.”
De Roche says one of her biggest mentors is Dr. Joseph Finkler, an emergency physician from St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver. Dr. Finkler is an experienced physician that works to combat the stigma of addiction, mental health and poverty, while providing care to all who enter the emergency department.
“I would absolutely recommend connecting with James Andrews and UBC undergraduate medical program for more opportunities to study medicine.”