University is a place for learning – and unlearning

October 11, 2018 at 3:20 pm

At our white coat ceremonies to welcome new students this fall, one of the strongest messages from speakers has been that health is a human right.

That means that future health professionals must unlearn their biases and racist stereotypes to support the health-care needs of our most vulnerable populations.

Dr. Ties Boerma, University of Manitoba Canada Research Chair in population and global health, spoke at Inaugural Exercises for the Max Rady College of Medicine. He told the incoming class that “the human right to health means that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which includes access to all medical services, sanitation, adequate food, decent housing, healthy working conditions, and a clean environment.”

In reality, Boerma pointed out, some populations have “far poorer health status and services.” In our community, Indigenous people have large health gaps that we must address. Many of those gaps are rooted in systemic racism that has permeated our country since the arrival of settlers. Learn about it, read the report “A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada” and reflect on your role in reconciliation.

Boerma called on the medical students to work towards health equity where all people and communities receive high-quality essential health services. “Every individual deserves the best possible care,” he said.

This message is applicable to all students across the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. As health professionals, it has to be our goal to deliver high-quality, comprehensive health care to all patients – with the acknowledgment that reconciliation is not optional.

As a Faculty, we are addressing the health-related calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report through a faculty Reconciliation Action Plan and establishment of the Indigenous Institute of Health & Healing – Ongomiizwin to support the health and wellness of Indigenous communities as patients, learners and prospective health professionals.

An important part of the competence our Rady students learn during their educational experiences is the softer skills required of their future roles: empathy, self-awareness, social accountability, resilience, humanism and the ability to adapt to change.

I encourage each student to absorb positive attributes and values from your respective mentors, to be inclusive when you are in clinical settings and in your college’s lecture theatre or classroom, and to be aware of the “hidden curriculum” which affects you as a learner.

Your career as a health professional brings with it great responsibility.

Your level of knowledge, skills and responsibility will increase in graded additions as you embark on your education and training. More importantly, as health professionals, you will learn to integrate concepts of professionalism into your being.

We all enjoy enormous privileges in our community and serve important roles. Remain humble, nurture your sense of self and sense of empathy for others. Serve the most to those with the most needs and remember to take on roles of citizenship and leadership.

At this fall’s Opening Assembly for the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry and the School of Dental Hygiene, Laura MacDonald, associate professor of dental hygiene, called on every incoming student to go forward with “a pure heart, a kind soul, a fierce mind and a courageous spirit” and to “be there for the community we serve.”

That’s a powerful reminder for us to be brave and flexible enough to “unlearn” racist stereotypes and put all patients first.

What’s your message to the incoming students in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences?