Aboriginal youth get view of career horizons

(Edmonton) Sixteen-year-old Bryn Singer has long thought she’s wanted to be in health care.

“Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be a nurse so I can help people,” said Singer. She was one of 28 students from three Aboriginal communities in Alberta who were on the U of A campus as part of Aboriginal Health Horizon Days.

The three-day event, put on by the Indigenous Health Initiatives program, is a part of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry’s ongoing commitment to encourage and inspire Aboriginal students to attend university and then to consider health careers. The students, who came from the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, Treaty Seven Management Corporation and Treaty Eight First Nations of Alberta, are in grades 7 to 10.

“We know that there are a significant number of Aboriginal students who do not complete high school, so we’re trying to find ways to show them that they can do this, and that it would be an interesting way to carry on their educational careers,” said Jill Konkin, associate dean of the Division of Community Engagement. “It’s important to get to them before they’ve already started to think about quitting school.”

During their time on campus, the youngsters had a chance to hear from U of A students and faculty about numerous programs within the faculty; they also had the chance to go into labs and try their hand at different disciplines, including dentistry and medical laboratory sciences. The Faculty of Nursing offered up a lab for the first time this year.

Given the shortage of Aboriginal health-care professionals across the country, Konkin says, there are many benefits to training this group.

“Health professionals who go back to communities—either their own or one that is similar—already have a jump-start on cultural, health and community issues over those of us who are not Aboriginal,” she said. “The other thing is, having more and more Aboriginal students in medical or dental school classes helps people who are of non-Aboriginal origin to better understand the issues through those students; having that interchange enriches the environment for all students.”

The event wrapped up with the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame’s Discovery Days, where students had more chances to get hands-on experience in the lab.

Singer, who spent more than six hours on a bus to come to the U of A from the Blood Reserve near Lethbridge, says the event was worth the long ride.

“It was fun, educational and inspiring.”

The Aboriginal Health Horizon Days project is funded by Health Canada.