Connecting Nursing students with Indigenous communities

The Ingram School of Nursing's Ashukin program, enables Bachelor of Science (Nursing) BSc(N), Bachelor of Nursing (Integrated) (BNI) – and eventually, Master of Science (Applied) in Nursing – Direct-Entry – students to acquire clinical learning experiences in Indigenous communities in Quebec

By Christina Kozakiewicz, Ingram School of Nursing

The Ingram School of Nursing (ISoN) has a strong record of commitment to teaching students about community nursing, particularly with more vulnerable communities. Within this optic, ISoN Faculty Lecturers and Global and Indigenous Health Nursing co-chairs Françoise Filion and Jodi Tuck would argue that the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had a profound effect on McGill, the Faculty of Medicine, and on the ISoN.

This is why, in large part, Filion and Tuck say the ISoN made a commitment to making Indigenous health an important feature of the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. To that end, Filion and Tuck have been working with Glenda Sandy, a Naskapi-Cree woman and Indigenous Nurse consultant to the ISoN, to develop ethically sound programs.

More specifically, Filion, Tuck and Sandy have been collaborating in the development of the ISoN’s Ashukin program, which enables Bachelor of Science (Nursing) BSc(N), Bachelor of Nursing (Integrated) (BNI) – and eventually, Master of Science (Applied) in Nursing – Direct-Entry – students to acquire clinical learning experiences in Indigenous communities in Quebec.

The program is aptly named “Ashukin,” a Naskapi word meaning “bridge.” “We are creating a real, tangible connection between two communities, learning from and helping each other,” says Filion. The program provides students with the opportunity to work with Indigenous populations in both Southern and Northern Quebec, in urban, rural and remote communities.

To start, students are tasked with learning about the communities in which they will be working, using the web and telephone to connect with community members. In the case of Indigenous communities located near Montreal, students will be engaging in weekly visits. For more remote regions, students will be dispatched to communities for longer stints. Regardless of distance, the experience will expose them to groups and clients who exhibit a variety of health needs, helping students develop their assessment skills in complex settings.

Students must then perform a needs assessment in collaboration with community members, who actively take part in identifying their own needs. Based on the assessments, students are tasked with developing a health promotion or primary prevention project to be shared with the community at large upon completion.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” says Filion. “Students get to exchange culture and knowledge with members of an Indigenous community, while learning clinical competencies ranging from health promotion, health education to primary prevention care, and the communities get to share their knowledge, and benefit from the students’ work.”

A hope for a possible outcome of the program is for students to be paired with interested local youth and adults in these communities to create an ongoing mentorship program, with the ultimate goal of inspiring Indigenous community members to consider nursing as a career option. There is also hope that new relationships forged by the program could help communities recruit future health professionals to work in their regions.

“We currently have funding for the next three years, and our goal, and our hope, is that the connections we will establish in these communities will help the program to be sustainable,” says Jodi Tuck. “We also hope that Ashukin will help to reflect our commitment to Indigenous health, and to reinforce the ISoN’s inclusive learning environment, one that highlights the voices and perspectives of Indigenous peoples.”

Ashukin is funded by Enriched Educational Opportunities (EEOs), a provincial government bursary program managed by McGill, intended to provide work experience opportunities that take place outside of the classroom to foster self-development and help students transition successfully to the workplace or graduate studies. Ashukin officially launches this winter, and is part of a larger program linked to several courses within the ISoN curriculum.

McGill is officially launching Indigenous Health Professions (IHP) Program on March 1. The goals of this initiative are to train more Indigenous health professionals and to teach all future health professionals about the health needs of Indigenous peoples. For more information, visit the website.