Nunavut teens get crash course in health jobs
“Unless you’ve had a need for a health service yourself, you don’t necessarily know those professions exist”
Fake blood bubbles up between the tiny stitches Jesse Apak sews into a small piece of sliced sponge.
The 15-year-old Pond Inlet youth is getting a crash course in surgical suturing as part of a week-long health-careers camp.
A few rooms down the hall at the Iqaluit campus of Nunavut Arctic College, other Grade 9 and Grade 10 students are slicing open a pig’s heart and talking about cardiology and heart health. Ironically, it’s Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.
The camp, run by the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, introduces students to careers in health care, ranging from doctors, to X-ray technicians, to community health workers and licensed practical nurses. Twenty students from six Nunavut communities, representing all three regions of the territory, took part.
“My favourite part was doing CPR on a mannequin,” Apak said. “It was something new for me to learn that I didn’t know.”
She now has her sights sets on a career as a general practitioner.
“I want to be the kind of doctor that helps everyone with everything,” she said.
The “mini-med school” camp usually runs in the summer months in Thunder Bay and Sudbury, where it was started in 2006.
It’s the first time this camp has come to Nunavut. The camp ran from Feb. 12 to Feb. 16 in Iqaluit.
“The long-term goal is to reduce dependence on a transient workforce, employ Nunavummiut and to encourage young people to pursue health careers,” said Jennifer Wakegijig of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
But in the short term, “we want them to be exposed to the range of health careers that they can pursue here in Nunavut, and to meet Nunavut role models who are from Nunavut and who are doing those careers,” she said.
Back in the Arctic College classrooms, another group of students is learning from members of the Nunavut government’s tobacco reduction program exactly what can happen to your lungs when you smoke cigarettes regularly.
That is, they could turn completely black, just like a large pig’s lung made to look like the lung of a person who has smoked cigarettes for 20 years. Hung next to a healthy pink pig’s lung, the black lung made quite the contrast.
Students also visited the Qikiqtani General Hospital to practise putting casts on each other, and spent time with Nunavut mental-health workers to learn about mental health and suicide response. They also learned about physiotherapy and injury rehabilitation careers, and early in the week they drilled through eggshells with a tiny drill used to put an IV into a bone.
“Unless you’ve had a need for a health service yourself, you don’t necessarily know those professions exist,” Wakegijig said.
Students also met with an elder to learn about traditional Inuit medicine. Wakegijig said speaking Inuktut is an especially important skill when it comes to health care in Nunavut.
“Community health representatives and clerk interpreters are both important roles in communities that really makes a different to the quality of health care,” she said.
The Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Canada’s newest medical school, specializes in training health-care professionals who work in rural and remote areas.
Camp mentor and Iqaluit resident Alex McDermott travelled south to one of its summer camps in 2015.
“That really helped me decide, yes, I want to go into medicine,” said the now-17-year-old, who was thrilled to be sharing his experience with youth from across Nunavut.
“I’m hoping that they’ll get something out of it just like I did,” he said.
Chaperones who came along with the students were chosen to be community mentors to help youth stick with the career goals they made, after they returned home to their respective communities.
In Nunavut, the camp was organized with help from the Nunavut Arctic College, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre.
The camp was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy program, and supported by the Kakivak association, Kivalliq Partners in Development, and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Wakegijig said.