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New partnership to provide health-care training closer to home for northern Ontario First Nations

High school students from the western James Bay coast take part in the first WAHA Summer Program at Queen’s University in August 2023. The week-long,  health sciences camp was a soft launch for a new Health Career Pathways Program created by Queen’s Health Sciences and the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA).  (Queen’s Health Sciences - image credit)

The Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) has teamed up with Queen's University to give young people from remote First Nations along the James Bay and Hudson Bay coasts the chance to receive health-care education closer to home.

Students in the northern Ontario community of Moosonee will be able to train as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

WAHA also requested that paramedicine and midwifery be added to the offerings, since those professions are vital to healthcare delivery in the north.

"Paramedicine and midwifery play a huge role in our health-care system, not only from an urgent care perspective in transporting our patients and loved ones because we have six remote communities, but also enabling families to be able to give birth in their respective communities and in their traditional territory," said Lynne Innes, WAHA's president and CEO.

The collaboration was made possible, in part, thanks to a $31-million donation from the  Mastercard Foundation.

"The foundation is making a commitment to support sustainable, systemic change in health-care education and delivery as led by First Nations youth, communities and leadership in the region," said Jennifer Brennan, director of Canada programs at the Mastercard Foundation.

Innes said it was difficult for her to leave her home community for university, but her own children will now have opportunities closer to home if they choose to pursue careers in health care.

"I'm raising my three children here and excited for their opportunity to be able to have higher education and not have to leave like I did," she said.

Innes said the collaboration with Queen's University will help train more health-care workers locally, who will be more likely to stay in the communities they serve.

"Our goal is to drive health transformation by improving health outcomes and addressing delivery gaps and building First Nation representation in our region," she said.

Submitted by Callum Linden
Submitted by Callum Linden

In addition to the training opportunities in Moosonee, Innes said local high school students have already visited the Queen's campus in Kingston, to get a taste of the different job options in health care.

"They were all very excited about the opportunity," Innes said.

"We've had some come back and say, you know, we'd like to get into physiotherapy, we'd like to get into occupational health."

Queen's University chancellor Murray Sinclair, said the partnership builds on a longstanding relationship between WAHA and the university.

"It offers hope for reconciliation through new approaches to educating and supporting Indigenous youth in pursuing careers in health care. I believe this can help deliver the transformation needed in Indigenous healthcare in Canada," he said.