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'Recruit from us': Agreement between Alberta First Nations, U of A aims to train more Indigenous physicians

University of Alberta North Campus. (Sean McClune/CTV News Edmonton) University of Alberta North Campus. (Sean McClune/CTV News Edmonton)
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A new agreement between the University of Alberta and Tribal Chiefs Ventures Inc. aims to train more Indigenous physicians and improve health care for northern Alberta First Nations.

During a ceremony on Wednesday, six northeastern Alberta First Nations signed a memorandum to formally recognize a joint partnership to begin local recruitment with the U of A.

Those six nations represented Include: Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Cold Lake First Nation, Frog Lake First Nation, Heart Lake First Nation, Kehewin Cree Nation, and Whitefish Lake First Nation No. 128.

“I am excited about this memorandum of relational understanding and the potential it has to promote learning opportunities in the sciences and medical fields for the youth,” Cameron Alexis, the chief executive officer of Tribal Chiefs Ventures Inc., explained.

“It allows us to drill down to the nations upon successful completion of Grade 12 that this kind of career path is not impossible. It is possible.”

“A key part of our faculty’s mission is to serve the public through partnerships and innovation, on a solid foundation of social accountability,” Brenda Hemmelgarn, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, added.

Unlike a traditional memorandum, the newly signed agreement focuses on gaining trust in the nations while supporting working relationships that will lead to success.

“When we respect Indigenous world views and find ways to work together, we will achieve harmony and build trusting partnerships to reach our shared goals,” Wayne Clark, the executive director of the U of A's Indigenous Health Initiatives program, said.

According to Clark, progress is expected in the recruitment of more Indigenous medical school applicants including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, as well as urban and non-status students.

The second target area is to improve all trainee physicians' understanding of challenges First Nations peoples face within the healthcare system. The third focus Clark said is finding innovative and educational solutions to healthcare gaps with Indigenous peoples.

“There is a need for Indigenous medical practitioners — physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, RNs, dentists and others — to help address the needs of First Nations peoples,” Alexis said.

“We should be helping out to look after our own nations, but not only our own nations but also fellow Albertans and fellow communities that are in Alberta so although this is a stepping stone to help our nation's it’s also to help other Canadians.”

“Historically looking at the data, the people we do recruit from the communities and train in those communities are more likely to go back and practice in those communities,” Hemmelgarn added.

“It’s not just about bringing them in and training them to be a doctor, it's recruiting them from their home communities, it’s supporting them while they’re here and then it’s helping them actually transition back to practice in the various communities where they’re located.”

Clark said this agreement is the first of its kind. Noting it's a step toward achieving the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commision of Canada.

“We the people of the First Nations we’re here,” Alexis added. “Recruit from us.” 

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