Rankin Inlet’s Art Sateana is studying in the Health Careers Access Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. (File photo)

Nunavut struggles to recruit Inuit health-care workers

Half of the Department of Health’s employees are Inuit, though only a handful work in front-line care

By Leanna Wilson and Nunatsiaq News

Updated with correction April 23

Nunatsiaq News partnered with Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa this past winter to deliver a journalism workshop to a group of first- and second-year students. Some of our reporters and editors spent Wednesday afternoons working with three students, who pitched and reported their own news and feature stories.

Art Sateana can recall the first time he felt out of place as a patient in Nunavut’s health-care system.

“My first experience was when I was 14 years old and I just wanted to speak to someone who understood where I was coming from,” said Sateana as he recalls a medical appointment in his hometown of Rankin Inlet.

Even as a teen, Sateana felt the nurse and doctor he was seeing made generalizations about his health issues and how they should be treated.

There are no Inuit doctors working in Nunavut and a small number of Inuit nurses, meaning many Nunavummiut will never be treated by an Inuk in the health-care system.

Sateana decided he wants to change that. Now 23, he is studying in the Health Careers Access Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

“I really wanted to be seen by an individual who understood my background, my history,” he said. “To understand the social-economic factors that lead to health issues in the North.”

Leanna Wilson is a second-year student at Nunavut Sivuniksavut. She is from Iqaluit.

As one of only a handful of young Inuit who plans to study medicine in Canada, that decision has pushed Sateana into the spotlight as a role model for other young Nunavummiut.

The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Health says boosting Inuit representation in the territory’s health-care system is a priority.

Currently, roughly half of the department’s employees are Inuit, though only a handful of those work in front-line care.

“We believe it is very important to have more Inuit working in the Department of Health,” said Joanne Idlout, the department’s manager of Inuit employment. “We are constantly trying to promote health careers.”

To do that, she’s visiting high school classrooms across Nunavut, handing out health career toolkits that explain to students what kinds of jobs the GN is looking to fill and where students can pursue post-secondary studies.

Idlout said the department also offers training and professional development to entry-level staff who may want to build a career in health administration.

“It’s really important that Inuit move up, even if they start in administrative positions and can see themselves moving into a more senior management role in a few years,” she said. “We think it’s very important for them to gain that education to allow them to move up in their careers.”

But Nunavummiut students who want to move into the health sciences have their work cut out for them.

Sateana, who graduated from Maani Ulujuk high school, said Nunavut’s education system did little to prepare him to study medicine.

“When I was in high school, there were no biology classes, no chemistry, no physics and no mathematics courses,” he said.

“So my first two years [in university], I was enrolled in classes for 14-16 hours a day … in order for me to qualify and get me where I am.”

Even as Sateana has settled into student life, the challenges remain.

Sateana is currently working in the health care system in Nunavut, as an outpatient manager assistant at the Kivalliq Health Centre at home in Rankin Inlet while he continues his studies onlne.

There, Sateana has found some local patients are hesitant to interact with him in a health care setting.

“I was looked at as a person from town and not a professional,” he said. “Just because it is so new for a lot of people. So I’ve had to prove my worth, which has been one of the trickier experiences.”

Sateana is in high demand elsewhere; the pre-med student is currently being courted by two other Canadian universities and one in the United States, which have all invited him to transfer to their programs in September.

Given his motivation to get into medicine in the first place, Sateana said he would like to eventually return to Nunavut to work as a doctor, with a speciality in pediatrics.

But as it stands, the GN does not employ a full-time position pediatrics in the Kivalliq region. That’s the branch of medicine that focuses on the care of infants and children.

The Department of Health said it currently employs two full-time and one part-time pediatrician in Nunavut, all based in Iqaluit, while the department works to recruit a fourth. Pediatricians are sent to work in most Nunavut communities on a fly-in basis.

“Our population within the territory is about 50 per cent under 25 [years of age], so the demography is very much there,” Sateana said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said there were no full-time pediatricians based in Nunavut. In fact there are four Nunavut-based pediatrician positions, three of which are currently filled.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Sateana was studying medicine, when in fact, he is first working to complete a Health Careers Access Program at the University of Manitoba.

Health Careers in Nunavut English by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Silas on

    I am very pleased to hear of Art Sateana’s efforts. I hope that many young students in Nunavut see this and are encouraged by it, enough to make the same kind of commitment.
    The Government of Nunavut must not just talk the talk, “The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Health says boosting Inuit representation in the territory’s health-care system is a priority.” Surely with this kind of talk they are able to make an exception and create a full time position for one of its own.


    Look into 5 year EDUCATIONAL PLAN to identify strength, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges in school, and identify what is taught in classes from elementary to high-school i.e. where curriculum programs needs to be improved or should perhaps be taught!?!

    – ENGLISH (basic to enroll in college or university) *
    – GRAMMAR (how to write words and sentence in ENGLISH) – (basic to enroll in college or university) *
    – MATHEMATIC’s (basci to enroll in college or university) *
    – SOCIAL STUDIES (basic to know history i.e. also learn to read and write english grammar
    – BIOLOGY or CHEMISTRY (if science is too advance, teach general basic science) – (basic to pass high-school for extra credits)
    – INUKTITUT (learn to read and write in Inuktitut) *
    – PHYSICAL EDUCATION (fitness health) *

    NOTE: * (Important)

    These are general basic’s where students should be oriented to enroll in POST-SECONDARY before completion of HIGH-SCHOOL. This perhaps another reason WHY quality of EDUCATION in NUNAVUT school’s is lacking due to SLACKER programs taught in SCHOOL’s i.e. alot of cultural programs delivered in classes known as AULAJAAQTUT program’s…

    • Posted by Courses on

      Many of those academic courses are available in Rankin, and were available in Rankin when he was a HS student. Academic math was there, physics was there, Biology was there – Chemistry might have been offered via distance ed, but it was offered.

  3. Posted by Becky on

    Great article on an important issue. I will note one correction though… Iqaluit does hire full time paediatricians so perhaps the article meant to say Rankin Inlet doesn’t hire full time paediatricians rather than Nunavut. Paediatricians are a very important part of the health care team for Baffin. Here is hoping this young man will come work in Iqaluit in his specialty or maybe Rankin will one day include the specialty in their community.

  4. Posted by Kevin bussey on

    Way to go Art! I always felt you would do well when you were a student at MUI.
    I am very proud of you.
    You will break a new path for Inuit participation in medicine.
    Good luck!!

  5. Posted by Harry Niakrok SR. on

    So proud of you Art, wish there were more people like you who are not afraid to try living their dreams instead of just dreaming…..WAY TO GO….YOU ROCK

  6. Posted by Stream of Unconsciousness on

    Did he go to Nunavut Sivuniksavut?

    (Congratulations Mr. Sateana, and also to Ms. Wilson for the article)

  7. Posted by Kathleen on

    Well done Art. You, and everyone else who has helped you along your path deserves praise. I think the point of the comments to this article should be to recognize that you set a goal, and you worked hard to pursue it. And you should be commended.

  8. Posted by Israel McArthur on

    Seems like it would be better to say that Nunavut struggles to train Inuit health care workers. I’m confident that when there are enough in the pipeline that recruiting will take care of itself.

  9. Posted by Uncle Bob on

    Art, your drive and passion to work in the medical field is mind boggling, where you get the energy to put so many extra hours into study to catch up on the shortfall in your education is simply amazing.
    I am certain that all the people of Rankin if not all of Nunavut (plus one in Australia) is behind you in your endeavours.


    Develop Social Economic & Education Study to oversee and approach Education issues in Nunavut i.e. How quality of EDUCATION delivered is affected with current and former students. Develop in house visits of small rural remote schools in Municipalities to identify strength, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges to approach if curriculum programs delivered in classes is feasible or NOT! Update Education stats on regular basis if percentage of students are attending post-secondary, workforce or NOT!

    You’ll notice GN employees public servants hired set in office space develops slacky’s (out at 4 pm), this is similar with quality of education delivered in rural remote communities in Nunavut school’s. Poor quality of Education administered or delivered develops to Social Economic and Education burden! known as Pretext programs that are NOT relevant to Quality of EDUCATION programs for LEARNING! What would you proposed!?! Quality of Education provided elsewhere in Canada should not be any different in Nunavut! Suggestions?

  11. Posted by Will Burton on

    Art! Totally seen you taking this path and slaying it. Really nice to see you propelling yourself further into what YOU want to do. You set the bar for a lot of people!


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