Health-care opportunity awaits

(Edmonton) Thirty-six indigenous youth from all over Alberta were at the University of Alberta this week for Aboriginal Health Horizon Days, an initiative of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry to recruit Aboriginal youth to its programs.

The young people, from Treaty 6, Treaty 8 and local schools, were at North Campus for three days to take part in workshops and small group discussions about careers in health care. The purpose of this three-day event is to get these students thinking outside the box and considering applying to medicine, dentistry or medical laboratory sciences.

“Youth are seeing there are opportunities outside their communities,” said Wanda Whitford, administrator of the Indigenous Health Initiatives Program in the faculty and co-ordinator for the health horizon days. “I had one come to me and say, ‘I didn’t realize I could leave my community. I didn’t realize that if I left that I would have a community outside of my home at the U of A.’

“I think we really empower them and make them part of university life during these three days.”

The first day was a travel day and cultural teachings in the evening. On Tuesday the young participants took part in Discovery Days, an initiative of the Medical Hall of Fame that includes numerous workshops in labs across the faculty. Wednesday they had the chance to meet Aboriginal role models from medicine, dentistry and medical laboratory sciences, all programs within the faculty. As well, the youth took part in one of three workshops put on by the faculty: crime scene investigation in a medical sciences lab; they watched a surgery in an operating room at the U of A Hospital and a dental procedure in a new lab at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy.

Whitford’s niece, Kayla Whitford, was one of the local youth to take part. The Grade 12 student has always wanted to be a dentist, so she jumped on the opportunity to go to a dentistry lab for one of the workshops.

“I like things like this; it gives me a really good outlook on what I want to do,” said Whitford. “It’s really complicated and I have a lot of work to do to [become a dentist] but I love it.”

Erin Bownoskiye was on campus all the way from Fox Lake, which is two hours north of High Level. She thought she had an idea of what she wanted to do when she grew up, but that has since changed.

“I wanted to be a nurse after I graduate,” said Bownoskiye. “Now I want to be a research scientist.”

This is the second year Whitford has organized and put on Aboriginal Health Horizon Days. It is sponsored by the Aboriginal Health and Human Resources arm of Health Canada.

“I have youth still emailing me from last health horizon days,” said Whitford. “One student�when she got back home to Siksika First Nation, she was getting below-average marks in school, and she just emailed me the other week and said she has improved her marks so much she is taking higher level high-school courses.”