Sitansisk Wolastoqiyik member becomes first medical doctor from N.B. community

·4 min read
Dr. Tiffany Brooks will begin her residency in early July where she will practise family medicine. (Dalhousie University - image credit)
Dr. Tiffany Brooks will begin her residency in early July where she will practise family medicine. (Dalhousie University - image credit)

Dr. Tiffany Brooks's career was sparked by something that happened during her childhood.

"Back in elementary school, my mom had a surgery and that got me interested in medicine ... looking up YouTube videos all the time, learning what it was all about," she said.

Years later, that curiosity led to Brooks graduating from Dalhousie University's school of medicine in May. She's starting her residency in family medicine this month.

Brooks is the first person to become a medical doctor from Sitansisk Wolastoqiyik, N.B., also known as St. Mary's First Nation.

Her time in university was defined by successes, such as receiving the Dr. Leonard, Kay and Simon Levine Scholarship, which goes to a fourth-year medical student who shows a strong aptitude for family medicine.

Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC

Brooks was also a student lead in developing Dalhousie's Doctor for a Day initiative, which allows Indigenous middle-to-high school students to learn more about the medical school.

"That was a really good opportunity to mentor some youth into seeing themselves in a career in medicine and incorporate some cultural aspects into what medicine looks like," she said.

Brooks also completed a research project that looked at the ethical processes of engaging Indigenous communities and providing culturally safe care.

"I was learning a lot about our history, and about the role of medicine, and seeing how my role as a physician can be impactful in making some changes," she said.

Chicky Polchies/Facebook
Chicky Polchies/Facebook

While curiosity sparked her interest in medicine, Brooks said as a youth there was some lingering doubt about pursuing it.

Those doubts began to dissipate in high school when she and her peers took an aptitude test that found Brooks was well-suited to go into health care.

"I was a pretty shy kid and so I didn't really see myself in medicine until that aptitude test sort of made me see past some of those limiting beliefs that I had, and think that it might be a possibility," she said.

Brooks's passion for medicine also blossomed from a commitment to care for her community as she recalled work she had done in Sitansisk and Fredericton.

"I had the opportunity to sit down with community members and hear some of their stories and that reaffirmed to me how listening and holding safe space for people's stories can be medicine in itself," she said.

Brooks said this connection with community lent itself well to pursuing family medicine.

"I chose family [medicine] because family is sort of an amalgamation of everything," she said. "Plus, you have a lot of social justice and social determinants of health, which I was really drawn toward learning more about."

This drive and desire to learn stood out to Brooks's preceptor, Dr. Stéphane Paulin.

"She was very passionate, very devoted toward patient care and you could see that her sense of responsibility was quite strong," said Paulin.

"When there is something that is not fair, she would definitely advocate strongly for the patient and would be sad when things don't work out or services were not available."

It is these aspects that Paulin said will be ideal as Brooks goes into family medicine.

"Somebody like Tiffany, who's from the area, who is passionate and wants to make a difference in her community. We know that's our best asset for a long term," said Paulin.

"We can recruit physicians, but if they're not from here and the family's not from here, it makes it a little bit more difficult long term, but definitely, Tiffany has roots here."

Brooks said she plans on practising in Fredericton. She's interested in becoming a locum physician so that she can bring back knowledge from other communities where she practises to Fredericton.

And for Indigenous youth who want to go into medicine, Brooks has this advice.

"There's a lot of room to to bring some Indigenous knowledge into medicine and back to our communities," she said. "So, I'd say if you see any limiting beliefs, if you think maybe that it would be too hard or that you wouldn't be a good fit., just try it."

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