Dr. Nadine Caron Receives National Honour
Prince George, B.C. – A First Nations surgeon who works and teaches in Prince George has received a prestigious award from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the announcement coming on this National Aboriginal Day.
Dr. Nadine Caron, MD, MPH, FRCSC, is the winner of the 2016 Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award, established in 2014 to recognize physicians who epitomize a zeal and devotion to the pursuit of rights and justice for Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
A Sagamok Anishnawbek (Ojibwa) surgeon, she receives the award for her distinction as a role model and her success in co-creating the UBC Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health. Dr. Caron is a general and endocrine surgeon working in Prince George who also teaches as an associate professor in UBC’s Northern Medical Program. She is the first Indigenous woman to graduate from UBC’s medical school.
Dr. Caron says “obviously it is an incredible honour to receive this award. I, after hearing about it, am just really blown away. The people that I work with and the Indigenous surgeons that I have come to know over the years as our numbers increase across the country, there are so many that obviously could have received this award, so I’m honoured.”
“I think equally as important is that I’m really impressed that the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Canada would have this award and recognize the importance of what this award stands for and how important Indigenous or Aboriginal health is to them in their mandate. I was really impressed with the College for how much effort they put into Aboriginal health and the importance they place on it.”
Dr. Caron was both surprised and dismayed to learn that, according to the College, she is Canada’s first female First Nations general surgeon. “I have been told,” she says “but it’s impossible to verify it and I was shocked to hear it, and I’ve never been proud of that fact. My first reaction is recognizing that there’s nothing special about what I did. When I went through my surgical residency and my fellowship, I was surrounded by people who were going through a surgical residency and fellowship and so there is nothing special about me.”
“What that “first” really dictates is what is there in our history and what is currently happening with respect to opportunities and educational support, and the barriers to these elements, that make graduating from my surgical residency in 2003 as the first, what makes that so concerning and what makes that something that we obviously need to address? So I’ve challenged that notion multiple times, whether it’s being the first female First Nations general surgeon in Canada or the first female First Nations medical student to come from UBC is immediately questioning is that something that we celebrate an individual for or, more importantly, is that something where we question society and say this is a red flag, this is something where we need to actually step back and say be careful what you celebrate.”
“Look back into why is it there and address the elements where, if you peel back the onion, there are some major issues that need to be addressed, and I think that we are. Certainly at UBC, with the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health, that’s one of the fundamental reasons why we came together, is recognizing that we have to change the “first” into “many”.
Dr. Caron passionately states “that’s a fundamental responsibility of post-secondary institutions in Canada and it’s a responsibility of high school students and goes all the way back to elementary school, to create the messages for aboriginal students that they need to stay in school and they can stay in school because they can be anything they want.”
“And you tell that to kindergarten kids, to kids in grade 4 and you tell it to them again in grade 7, all the way through so that in the end, when they look up and they see, whether it’s a surgeon or a firefighter or a teacher they realize that whatever it is, that they can achieve it and I think we need to get that message out.”
Dr. Caron says UBC’s School of Medicine is increasing the opportunities for Frist Nations students to apply and succeed in the field of medicine with the Northern Medical Program being one facet which “focusses on those who have an interest in working in rural and northern communities, of which we’ve had aboriginal students come through. But UBC as a whole has, I think, made tremendous steps forward in that area with their aboriginal admissions policy.”
“What the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health is doing is not only working with the Faculty of Medicine but all health sciences at UBC to figure out how can we now work to increase the representation of aboriginal health care providers across the disciplines, and that’s a big step but it’s a step that needs to be taken.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued seven calls for action focusing on health and health policy. Dr. Caron says “the Indigenous health care providers and professional that I know have been passionate, there was not a single call to action that was a surprise, not one that any of the colleagues that I work with on a day-to-day basis haven’t discussed, thought of, tried to tackle. I think that, given the paucity of aboriginal health care providers in Canada, that the TRC recommendations are in no way directed towards us.”
“We are one of every Canadian who is responsible for reading this document and understanding it and doing what they can to listen to the call to action and, when it applies to them, to do it. So whether it is increasing the number of aboriginal health care providers that means the universities that have these training programs recognizing that this is not an option, this is something that they need to do and need to do it at a policy level so that they can actually facilitate and support and recruit the aboriginal students to come to their institutions and do this, and I think UBC is working on this.”
She says “when it comes to cultural safety in the health care professions, every single health care provider in Canada needs to realize that they need to look in the mirror and figure out what are they doing that’s working, what are they doing that they need to understand more and that includes aboriginal and non-aboriginal health care providers.”
“If it comes to understanding the role of traditional medicines, particularly anyone in the western medical field whether its nurses or physicians of pharmacists, we all have to recognize that there has to be respect for this and understand that there’s more than one way of addressing a health care issue and working in support of an individual who has had whatever diagnosis it is to find out what works for them. What do they believe in, where are their expectations in figuring out where western medicine and traditional medicine can merge?
“This is all discussions that, as an Indigenous health care provider, I’ve had myself, multiple times. But this TRC call to recommendations, in my mind, is for every single Canadian and I think that’s been made fairly clear not only by the Treaty and Reconciliation Commission but right up to the federal government.”
“Of course there’s more than health, there’s education, there’s language, legal, there’s policy there’s so much and so there’s something in this document for every Canadian where they can take on part of this and either do it personally or within their professional realm.”
Dr. Caron encourages aboriginal youth to pursue their dreams and aspirations, listen to positive messages, stay in school, believe in themselves, find something that they love and really want to do and look to people who have done it and will support you through it.
“I’m optimistic,” says Dr. Caron “that today’s aboriginal youth are going to have role models, mentors, programs, policies funding that hopefully becomes more available to them that if they have the courage to dream those dreams that they have enough people behind them to help them make it possible.”