Indigenous Health Initiatives Program honours graduates

(Edmonton) The Indigenous Health Initiatives Program in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry honoured its 10 graduates at a special ceremony June 13 that included two important traditions, the eagle feather and Métis sash ceremonies.

Six of the graduates received their medical degrees, two graduated from the doctor of dental surgery program; a graduate from dental hygiene and one from medical laboratory sciences rounded out the group.

“They’re so grounded and personable and they’re going to make such amazing professionals once they’re out there,” said Wanda Whitford, administrator for the Indigenous Health Initiatives Program.

The IHI program is in place to support Aboriginal students and promote health care to indigenous people in Canada.

The program has helped the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at University of Alberta to graduate the most Aboriginal medical doctors of any school in the country. The U of A was also the first to have designated seats in the medical program for Aboriginals, says Whitford.

“When I spend time with these students from years one to four I think they realize the impact of the work they’re doing,” said Whitford. “They know the history of their people and they’re teaching their classmates about our culture, the health issues and the disparities; they’re the ones making change.”

Cara Bablitz is one of the graduates of the medical program. She will do her residency in Chilliwack, British Columbia in rural family medicine. Of Metis descent, Bablitz is hoping to help serve her people.

“I feel that, as a physician, the goal is to help people and the Aboriginal people are a group that has been suffering without adequate access to the health care they deserve,” said Bablitz. “I hope that a big part of my practice will be Aboriginal people.”

Bablitz gives credit to the IHI program for being a helping hand in her four years of medical school.

“They really helped me and were able to relate to what my classmates and I were going through, especially having Aboriginal ancestry,” said Bablitz. “They provided a lot of opportunities to do outreach work to Aboriginal reserves and different groups that came to the school.”

But both Whitford and Jill Konkin, associate dean of the Division of Community Engagement, say more work has to be done.

“There are nowhere near enough indigenous people in medical school or any of the health professions,” said Konkin. “We still have a long way to go and that’s part of what our purpose is, to continue to expand the program.”