For my LiA project, I had the privilege of working with Northern Vision, a non-profit organization comprising medical students, residents, and ophthalmologists in Canada, all dedicated to advocating for healthcare in rural and Indigenous populations in Northern Canada. During 6-weeks spanning June and July, I was lucky enough to collaborate with this incredible team.
In Week 1 I had a single goal, to assess the gap in healthcare education for Northern communities living in Canada. I immersed myself in research, delving into academic papers and government websites. What I found was striking – an absence of Indigenous perspectives in the medical curriculum. It became evident that healthcare education needed to encompass not just clinical aspects but also cultural context.
Week 2 took me deeper into the diverse cultural landscapes of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. I held interviews with 3 community members from each of these groups, seeking to hear their stories and understand their unique traditions, languages, and territories. I encountered challenges, from geographical remoteness to historical mistrust, but I also discovered invaluable resources like Indigenous Healing Centers and community healthcare workers bridging critical gaps.
In Week 3, I took a leap by shifting my focus from assessing the current curriculum to creating a new one. I outlined five key modules and ten recommendations for Indigenous eye care providers, aiming to embrace cultural diversity, navigate unique medical challenges, break down barriers, synthesize traditional and modern healing, and cultivate cultural competency based on research and views expressed by each community member.
Week 4 marked the transition to gathering feedback. I engaged Indigenous community members and physicians, conducting surveys and one-on-one conversations across clinics in Québec and Ontario. Listening with an open heart, I learned about their struggles, barriers, and aspirations. I gave out surveys with Northern Vision's recommendations for a potential educational module in hopes of receiving feedback from community members and medical providers.
Week 5 became a turning point as I received nearly 100 pieces of feedback both through phone calls and online surveys representing the voices in the communities. Insights emerged, emphasizing the need for clear learning outcomes, interactive learning methods, Indigenous voices in curriculum development, diverse assessment methods, resource accessibility, community engagement, holistic care, inclusion of Indigenous elders, cultural competency training, and policy advocacy training which I aimed to integrate into the proposed curriculum.
In Week 6, I presented the refined curriculum with integrated suggestions from various community members to the Northern Vision team. Nervousness turned into warmth and support as they engaged and posed thoughtful questions, highlighting the collaborative spirit of the project.
Throughout these six weeks, several key lessons emerged. First, the importance of inclusivity became evident. One of the most striking aspects of this experience was the power of community collaboration. Gathering feedback from Indigenous community members and healthcare providers was a humbling experience. Their willingness to share their stories and insights highlighted the importance of creating spaces where their voices are heard and valued. It was a reminder that change is an iterative process and can happen when all voices are heard and sought out.
Empathy played a significant role. Listening to the stories and experiences of these communities deepened my understanding of their struggles and resilience. It illuminated the injustices within the healthcare system I grew up in. Immersed in the unfamiliar environment, I witnessed the challenges and triumphs of these resilient people. Their stories became my inspiration, and their struggles fueled my determination to make a meaningful impact. Leadership in this context required a unique set of qualities. Active listening, collaboration, resilience, and self-reflection were essential. I aimed to create an environment where diverse voices were welcomed and valued.
Unexpected twists and turns were expected, and I learned to pivot, when necessary, adjust my approach, and embrace setbacks as learning opportunities. My initial plan was to fly to a community in Northern Québec, however, due to Canadian wildfires many of the flights were cancelled. The nature of the project highlighted the value of continuous improvement for myself, despite this big setback in initial plans.
Overall, this LiA project has been transformative. It has helped me see myself in a leadership role, effecting positive change by being empathetic, adaptable, and committed to continuous learning. My small part in Northern Visions' goal to create a culturally sensitive healthcare curriculum was not just about education; it's about advocating for equitable healthcare for all communities, especially those who have been historically underserved.
The impact I hope to see moving forward is two-fold. Firstly, I aim to see the curriculum we've developed being implemented. I want medical providers to have access to education that not only equips them with clinical skills but also empowers them with cultural competence. I envision improved healthcare outcomes and improved trust between providers and Indigenous communities.
Secondly, I hope this project serves as a catalyst for broader change. I aspire to see healthcare institutions embracing inclusivity and cultural sensitivity in their curricula. I want this project to inspire others to embark on similar journeys, bridging gaps and advocating for equitable healthcare. Moving forward, I carry with me the experiences, learnings, and voices of those who have entrusted me with their stories.