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Two-Spirit physician visits Queen's to discuss decolonizing medicine

Two-Spirit physician visits Queen's to discuss decolonizing medicine

Here at the Faculty of Health Sciences, we are working with indigenous partners to answer the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation. You can read about how we’re doing in our progress report. This work is ongoing and multi-faceted, and it includes championing talks by leaders in Indigenous Medicine, such as Dr. Makokis.

Dr. Makokis was chosen by our own medical students as someone from whom they wanted to hear, as part of their medical school journey on their way to becoming doctors. I would like to thank Dr. Tatham and her partner Donna Henderson for their generous support. It is truly a win for diversity and inclusivity at FHS, as we work to create a culturally safe environment for Indigenous students, staff, faculty, and patients.

The following story was originally published in the Queen’s Gazette

A new lecture series promoting equity, diversity, and inclusivity in medical education debuted with a talk by Dr. James Makokis, a family physician from Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta who leads one of North America’s most progressive and successful transgender-focused medical practices.

“Indigenous youth have one of the highest rates of suicide in the country, and that rate increases even further when we look at transgender members of that group,” said Dr. Makokis to an audience that packed the Britton Smith Lecture Theatre and a second, overflow space at the Queen’s University School of Medicine. “Every family medicine physician has within their scope of practice a general medical license that gives them the ability to provide transgender care. Medical students and residents take time to learn to do this in your practice. It will be one of the most fulfilling areas of your career and you will help save lives.”

His lecture, entitled Decolonizing Medicine: Creating an Inclusive Space for Transgender and Two-Spirit People, is the first in the newly-created Dr. M. Nancy Tatham & Donna Henderson Lectureship – a series of talks featuring scholars and experts from diverse backgrounds discussing inclusivity in health, with a particular focus on LGBTQ2+ and Indigenous issues.

Dr. Makokis, who is both Cree and Two-Spirit, discussed language used around gender in medicine, the history of gender and First Nations people, and access to transgender care and hormone therapy. He explained that ideas of transphobia and homophobia are colonial social constructs and argued that decolonizing medicine can be achieved through simple acts, like acknowledging and accepting LGBTQ2+ patients and providing care that meets their needs.

“Take off your white lab coats,” he said. “It holds so much institutional symbolism, but it can also serve as a barrier. Take it off and seek to relate to your patients in a human way. I guarantee this will help you have a long, healthy, and happy medical practice and career.”

Supported by a donation from Dr. Tatham and Ms. Henderson, who are both long-time activists, the lectureship is organized by the School of Medicine’s undergraduate Diversity Panel. Students on the panel expressed a deep enthusiasm in putting Dr. Makokis forth as the first speaker in the series.

“Understanding the impacts of the historical and ongoing oppression faced by our patients is so essential in being able to provide excellent care,” says Ayla Raabis, Queen’s medical student and Diversity Panel member. “We must constantly strive to undo our own biases to be able to truly connect and ensure we are seeing our patients as the complex people we are tasked with caring for. Dr. Makokis’ talk was such a valuable opportunity to learn from his unique personal and professional experience, and to inspire us to push for making medicine a safe space for all patients.”

Notably, Dr. Makokis and his partner Anthony Johnson won the most recent season of well-known television competition The Amazing Race Canada. They were praised for using the platform to raise awareness of Two-Spirit people.

The October 23 talk from Dr. Makokis was the first in the new annual lecture series. Information on future Dr. M. Nancy Tatham & Donna Henderson Lectureship talks will be shared on the School of Medicine website.

“We're excited to carry the momentum of this talk forward by hosting additional events centred around improving access to healthcare and delivering culturally-informed care to LGBTQ2S+ and Indigenous populations,” says Danny Jomaa, Queen’s medical student and member of the Diversity Panel. “As trainees in medicine, it's important for us to build approaches to care that are formed on the principles of equity and respect for marginalized groups.”

I’d love to know your thoughts on Dr. Makokis’ talk in the comments below, or better yet, please stop by the Macklem House, my door is always open.

Phyllis Durnford, Nsg Sc '69

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 15:58

I'm very happy to see this element of caring for people appearing in the medical school curriculum. I hope that students from both the Nursing and Rehab therapy programs are invited to join these sessions. We are all tasked with caring for people first, in all their individual, familial and social complexity. Sometimes it hurts to have to acknowledge one's biases, but the exercise is worth it.
Well done.

Phyllis Durnford, Nsg Sc '69

Thank you for your positive feedback. The three schools in our Faculty of Health Sciences (Nursing, Rehabilitation Therapy and Medicine) are all working together and sessions are open to students of all schools. Interprofessional collaboration is part of our vision as we work to  promote excellence in patient care. 

Dr. Mala Joneja

Kevin Nolan, retired physician, class of Meds 74

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 16:40

Medicine has a history of conservative traditions that shift very slowly. This topic of institutional symbolism and historical oppression (as referred to by Dr. Makokis) is a challenging one. I did not get to hear this lecture or, as of yet, read a transcript. Can the speaker or their associates lead us to some additional resources that will help us to develop our knowledge and revise our attitudes? My background as a medical student had some challenges when I entered the hallowed halls of university life. I came from a rural background where my parents and relatives were hard-working, community-oriented descendants of Irish immigrants, who had limited formal education. I heard the professor's comments about the poorly educated and those who live "north of No. 7 highway" as if it was some incurable disease, he/she was discussing. Elitism has existed in medicine for a long time. Times are changing both inside and outside of the profession. There is an ongoing challenge to replace ignorance and dogmatism with objective truth and curiosity.

Kevin Nolan, retired physician, class of Meds 74

Thank you for your comments. There are many well-written books explaining historical oppression in healthcare. Two recommendations from Dr. Makokis are: Determinants of Indigenous Peoples' Health in Canada: Beyond the Social  edited by Margo Greenwood and Indigenous Healing by Rupert Ross.

Dr. Mala Joneja

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