$31M helping create new medical program in the North

Medical education in the north will see a new program form in the next two years thanks to a $31-million investment.

Queen’s University and the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) are teaming up to offer health science education to northern Indigenous communities with financial backing from the Mastercard Foundation.

In the coming years, the partners will be working on the curriculum for an integrated, culturally informed program run out of Moosonee for nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and paramedics.

“We have established a partnership to co-develop a unique program for university health sciences education,” said Jane Philpott, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s University at today's announcement. “Together we have a vision to educate Indigenous nurses, physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, midwives and paramedics here in the community.”

The first cohort for the program is expected to start classes in 2025, but they are already working with local high schools, preparing interested students for the program.

“While our work is largely on the continent of Africa, our work here in Canada begins in partnership with Indigenous communities across this country,” said Reeta Roy, president and CEO of the Mastercard Foundation. “For us, this work centres on the lives and the futures of young people, that they are able to pursue their aspirations and make their lives, lives of service to their communities.”

WAHA has had trouble with staff retention and recruitment in the past and Lynne Innes, WAHA president and CEO, said that this program is a great way to solve that issue with things like mentorship programs.

“We will promote retention by ensuring that we have a student recruitment, retention placement and mentorship strategy that trains and builds capacity in those with the highest likelihood of staying to practice in the long term,” said Innes.

She said the program will also address a lack of representation in health care providers and cultural competency in Northern communities.

“Through this partnership, we will ensure that we are integrated in First Nations ways of knowledge and First Nations ways of knowledge are at the forefront of what we do,” said Innes.

She said the focus is on teamwork between disciplines, an inter-professional curriculum that will prepare graduates to work together for the best results for the patients, and providing culturally appropriate care.

The program will be shaped to fill the needs of the communities its graduates will serve in, said Philpott

“When students graduate from these health sciences programs, they will be ready to serve their communities and provide much-needed health care,” she said.

There has been a focus on what the community needs for healthcare and education to fill the roles that need to be filled, said David Taylor, the senior advisor for the Queen’s and WAHA partnership.

“It’s really developing a curriculum that’s designed to serve the communities here,” Taylor said. “The healthcare professionals will train together in both the pre-clinical environment but in the hospitals and clinics, so they graduate ready to serve together in their roles.”

He said that the job is complicated but they’re looking for sustainability in the program and in healthcare in the region.

Dave Gunner, a Moose Cree First Nation elder, said that he’s hopeful for the future of health care in his community.

“We’re moving forward really well in the territory, with the new hospital facility, and it’s really great to see,” said Gunner. “The people doing the work here are making it a reality.”

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com