Nadine Caron – First Female First Nations Surgeon

by Frank Larue

Doctor Nadine Caron is Sagamok Anishnawbe, and she is the first female First Nations surgeon. Graduating from UBC’s medical school, she completed post-graduate fellowship training in endocrine surgeon oncology, earning her a master’s degree in public health.

Traditional Indigenous healing practices and Western medicine can co-exist, says UBC’s Dr. Nadine Caron. (Courtesy of Dr. Caron)

Traditional Indigenous healing practices and Western medicine can co-exist, says UBC’s Dr. Nadine Caron. (Courtesy of Dr. Caron)

“I’m often asked what it feels like to be the first female First Nations graduate from UBC School of Medicine, and that means a lot,” says Caron. “I was the first not because I was special, but because of where we are as a society in Canada. I think it’s made a lot of people reflect on the fact that we need to focus on increasing the numbers not only of First Nations female physicians and surgeons, but of the representation of indigenous peoples in Canadian health-care professions across the board.”

Caron has dealt with stereotypes, but it has never prevented her from completing her courses or doing her work.

“I remember this one time,” she recalls, “it was many years ago. A surgeon came in [who] had just finished a long case. He sat down and was like, ‘phew, if I never operate on another Indian, it’ll be too soon.” Even though Caron has attained her career goals, she still experiences instances such as this. “Sometimes I’m so optimistic, and then on other days I experience things in the hallways, or I hear things that are unintended to be heard, and you just hang your head.” She continued to express that the only way stereotyping will decline is if people, indigenous or of any other race, continue to challenge such instances.

Caron’s interest’s go beyond her surgeon talents. When asked what could be done to improve the public health system, she uses an analogy. “As a surgeon, you’re sometimes the person pulling someone else out of the river who’s drowning. You might save that person, and that’s great, but eventually someone has to go upstream to figure out why everyone’s falling in. I realized that if I could step out of that clinical spectrum and divide my time into other areas of public health – and in mentoring and teaching – that I could start to understand a bit more about why we are falling-in as a society, and start to fill those gaps.”

A medical profession is a difficult journey, but Caron has been successful with a combination of intelligence, determination, and willpower. As mentioned previously, Caron would like to see more First Nation students in the medical profession.

“When I’m asked what advice I would give to an indigenous youth right now in Canada, there’s much, but above-and-beyond any other would be believe in yourself. Don’t let what other people say sway you from your beliefs, sway you from your dreams, sway you away from what you want to do. There are enough people in the world who will tell you that it’s going to be too hard, that you won’t be able to make it. Don’t ever let your voice be one of those who you hear saying that.”

Caron was also the recipient of the Indigenous Health Award for 2016. The award established in 2014 in honour of Dr. Thomas Dignan, whose advocacy was towards eradicating disparities in the care of Canada’s indigenous people.

“I have followed his accomplishments with great interest over the years,” expresses Caron. “This national award honours physicians who mirror Dr. Dignan’s zeal, devotion, and dogged pursuit of justice for Canada’s Indigenous population.”