Introducing the new Office of Indigenous Health
Indigenous-led directorate aims to affect transformational change across the learning continuum
The teaching ‘create a small fire and people want to come,’ received by Anishinaabe Elder Banakonda Kennedy Kish Bell, comes to mind for Lisa Richardson, MD, FRCPC, when she thinks about the newly created Office of Indigenous Health at the Royal College.
The Office was created in June to advance the Royal College’s commitment to Reconciliation and build its capacity with Indigenous-led staff.
“It has taken big support, innovation and investment to make this happen,” she says, acknowledging the groundbreaking work of the late Thomas Dignan, CM, MD, FRCPSC (Hon), who set the Royal College on a journey 15 years ago to ensure Indigenous Peoples have equitable access to health care. “The Office will be a sustainable, secure funding space where Indigenous Peoples can feel supported in their work and affect change across the broader health system.”
Sherry Sandy is the Office’s new director. She brings to this role 30 years of experience working with Indigenous communities at the grassroots, provincial and national levels within the education and health sectors. She spent a year working as program manager, Indigenous Health at the Royal College, working with the Indigenous Health Committee (of which Dr. Richardson is a member).
She says the Office is an excellent opportunity for the Royal College to role model collaboration with its sister organizations by breaking down silos throughout the entire medical system. “We can bring Indigenous Peoples together to have conversations to move ahead.”
‘Bringing teeth to content’ – standardizing cultural safety into curriculums
Tsimshian family physician Rebekah Eatmon, BHK MD CCFP, is a new addition to the Office. She looks forward to ‘bringing teeth to content’ in her new role as a clinician educator with the Royal College. She joins Jillian Roberge, MD, FRCPC and Ryan Giroux, MD, FRCPC, specialists of Métis heritage who are collaborating with committees, stakeholders and working groups to integrate Indigenous health knowledge and concepts into curriculum development and accreditation standards.
While medical schools and residency programs are implementing Indigenous health content into their curriculum, Dr. Eatmon says at present, there’s no standardizing curriculum at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Her role at the Office will be to research assessment methods and determine whether they’re a good fit for assessing Indigenous health content.
“Cultural safety and knowledge of our shared history is something that I think should be mandatory in order to practise medicine in Canada,” Dr. Eatmon states.
Integrating training across the learning continuum
Ms. Sandy recognizes providing ongoing, lifelong resources for practising specialists is a big piece to ensure cultural safety is embedded in the skills of today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.
“Accreditation and curriculum development are only two parts of the health care system. We’ve made it a priority to integrate Indigenous health across the full system, so engaging our 50,000+ Fellows in this endeavour will be key.”
While early days at the Office, Dr. Eatmon is excited to be working with new-to-practice peers with Drs. Giroux and Roberge, and working alongside experts in Indigenous health.
“I have an opportunity to work on changing the health-care system. This is a starting point for changing structural issues.”
While she emphasizes the importance of having Indigenous Peoples lead transformational change in the medical education landscape, Dr. Richardson reminds us of the work ahead.
“The goal is to have an Indigenous patient seen by any specialist and feel understood – we are not there yet.”