Indigenous Learners in Health Sciences looks to promote students’ interest in healthcare

‘Indigenous knowledge isn’t at odds with the careers students are going into’

Caroline Instrum highlights the goals of Indigenous Learners in Health Sciences.  
Supplied by Caroline Instrum
Indigenous Learners in Health Sciences (ILHS) is a new organization that hopes to bridge divides between Western medicine and Indigenous medicine while amplifying the voices and experiences of Indigenous students interested in careers in healthcare.
The student-run organization was created in May after consultations with members of the Faculty of Health Sciences.
“I initially had the idea to create this group to amplify voices that have previously been overlooked in the healthcare field. I felt there was a need to create a space in the healthcare field like how engineers have Aboriginal Access to Engineering,” Caroline Instrum, HealthSci ‘23, said in an interview with The Journal
Instrum, who has Métis roots from Nova Scotia, said her goals in creating the ILHS began with a conversation with Jane Philpott, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, in January.
“Dean Philpott sent out an invitation to have an informal chat with Indigenous students in the faculty, and I think having some of us together made me realize how helpful it was to have us together,” Instrum said.
Instrum acknowledged that there’s room for improvement in the way certain course content is taught within the Faculty of Health Sciences.
“In our global health courses, we touched on Indigenous health and the medicine wheel—a framework for Indigenous health--personally, it didn’t go as far as I wanted it to. We didn’t have the opportunity to hear any actual Indigenous voices talk about the subject matter,” Instrum said.
“We were touching on the subject, but it wasn’t coming from an authentic voice.” 
Instrum hopes the ILHS will be able to advocate for students and create more opportunities to understand healthcare matters with Indigenous populations in a culturally safe manner. 
“I want to maybe approach the director of my own program and see what we can do to have an Indigenous knowledge course,” Instrum said. 
“Interpersonal skills and working with Indigenous populations is valuable for all students.”  
Along with advocacy work, Instrum hopes the ILHS will provide valuable experiences that strengthen the Indigenous student population interested in healthcare as a profession. 
“I envision a mentorship component. I have spoken to various Indigenous students in many programs, such as medicine and clinical psychology, and partnering with upper-year mentors will be really empowering,” Instrum said. 
Instrum feels that, along with the mentorship component, having workshops with healers and elders that are accessible to Indigenous students is important in their journey to understand their own cultures. 
“It can be intimidating to come to Queen’s and want to participate and learn more about your own culture. There is a certain aspect of imposter syndrome, and I am an example of this,” she said. 
“Growing up in a white-urban area I felt some imposter syndrome, and organizations like [Four Directions Indigenous Student Center] do an amazing job of inviting you to fun activities, but some people can hesitate because they don’t feel Indigenous enough.” 
Instrum added ILHS is an informal space where everyone, including herself, can continue learning. 
“Some of our events might be Indigenous-only to be a protected space, but we will definitely have events for everyone,” Instrum added. 
ILHS also isn’t exclusive to health sciences students.
“We recognize that Indigenous students in the Faculty of Arts and Science may want to pursue careers in health as well. So, we would want to make sure Indigenous students from these areas are included in our initiatives and events,” Instrum said. 
“I want students pursuing careers in healthcare to know that their knowledge isn’t at odds with the careers they are going into. We need to embrace our Indigenous knowledge; it is only going to enhance our abilities as health providers.”

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