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Health Sciences student creates new space for Indigenous Learners

Health Sciences student creates new space for Indigenous Learners

Caroline Instrum is a student in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at Queen’s University. Since arriving at Queen’s two years ago, Caroline has utilized campus wide resources such as the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre to further explore her connection to her Indigenous culture. However, she has struggled to find a space specifically for Indigenous learners in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS). With western ideology dominating medical education and practice in Canada, there often is not space for the full exploration of Traditional Ways of Knowing within the classroom or the hospital setting. Caroline believes that bringing together Indigenous students from across FHS will not only provide a space for this discussion but will also act as a support system for new learners, and because of this she has created the Indigenous Learners of Health Sciences.

“I had the idea to create the Indigenous Learners of Health Sciences because of how widespread FHS is,” says Caroline. “There are Indigenous learners across all of FHS’s many programs and I saw the need for a space where we could all connect and share our experiences. I have an older sister at Queen’s, and I’ve seen the difference that similar groups in her faculty have had on her experience.”

Beyond a lack of Indigenous knowledge in course curricula, Caroline cites tokenism, imposter syndrome and isolation as challenges Indigenous learners often face when pursing post-secondary education. Speaking to her own experiences, Caroline states that once she began to be more involved with the Indigenous community on campus, she found it much easier to tackle these concerns.

“Throughout my first two years of undergrad I’ve realized that connecting with my Indigenous culture has enriched my learning experience and my wellness,” says Caroline. “In the fall I’m hoping that we can get in touch with incoming students right from the get-go, as it can be confusing navigating first year in a large faculty, especially as a minority. I myself have connected with some more senior Indigenous students across several of the faculty’s programs and I’ve found that they have a lot of great advice to offer to me. I want others to benefit in the same ways I have and think that this will be a great space to facilitation these connections.”

Caroline, with support from the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, plans to bring in speakers such as Indigenous professors in FHS and other Indigenous healthcare professionals to share their experiences and discuss how they incorporate traditional Indigenous Knowledge into health sciences teaching and practice. While these discussions will initially act as a way to enhance what is being learned in the classroom, and as a way for the Indigenous Learners of Health Sciences to assist in the reconciliation and indigenization process of curriculum and program delivery in FHS.

So far, Caroline’s plans for the Indigenous Learners of Health Sciences have received positive feedback from faculty and peers. “I’ve already had students tell me how valuable of a resource

they think this will be,” says Caroline. “Hearing their enthusiasm and their own ideas for what this group can offer has been incredible to hear.”

Among her supporters is Dean Jane Philpott, whom Caroline brought this idea to earlier in the spring. “I think that the Indigenous Learners of Health Sciences will be an excellent way to highlight the presence of Indigenous students in FHS,” says Dean Philpott. “We are on a continuous journey of reconciliation, and ultimately we want to make the faculty a safe and welcoming place for all. I firmly believe that we need to increase Indigenous representation in healthcare and I’m positive that Caroline’s plans will enhance the educational experience of Indigenous learners, among many others in FHS.”

Caroline’s biggest advice to all incoming students is to get involved and not to be afraid to reach out to peers for support. “If you are struggling with something then it is likely that others are as well,” says Caroline. “Coming to University alone and being far away from home can be a very isolating experience and support is such an important thing to have. Moving forward I hope that I can provide some of that support for the Indigenous learners in FHS.”

For any inquiries about the Indigenous Learners of Health Sciences, Caroline can be reached at: caroline.instrum@queensu.ca