The class of 2012

Meet six young women who are about to embark on promising careers in health care, thanks to a program that offers high school students a glimpse into the world of medicine

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Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, July / August 2012

They've been like sisters all the way through high school, helping each other in class, doing each other's hair and talking about boys. And like sisters, the time has finally come for each of these six young women to go their own way. And what a way it will be.

These bright, young women are Darian Anderson, Alexi Hansen, Brenna Mallette, Beverly Pettit, Shayleen Ponace and Emily Thompson. They are the latest to graduate from the Medical Careers Exploration Program at Children of the Earth High School, a unique initiative designed to steer First Nations and Métis students to careers in health care.

Launched in 2007, through a partnership between the Winnipeg Health Region and the Winnipeg School Division, the three-year program offers students hands-on experience working with doctors, nurses, technicians, physiotherapists and other medical mentors at the Pan Am Clinic, Grace Hospital and Health Sciences Centre. It also prepares students for a future in medicine by reinforcing the skills necessary to excel in university, such as study skills, literacy, theoretical sciences, and mathematics. The first class of five students graduated in 2011.

Stacie Jaworski, who has taught this year's graduating class of MCEP students since they entered the program at Children of the Earth in Grade 10, says her students have blossomed over the last three years, especially in the last 12 months. "It's hard to believe how quickly these three years have passed with this group of MCEP students. I can still remember my first day with them, and their first year. The students were quiet, reserved, and not exactly always sure of themselves," says Jaworski.

When the students entered Grade 10, Jaworski had them create a detailed list of their top 10 objectives. A few weeks ago, she showed the students those lists, and they had a good laugh over the goals they had set for themselves.

"Today, their goals include things like finishing a university degree, being independent, finding a career, buying their own home, and supporting a family. And after watching them grow and develop in just a few short years, I know that each one of them is capable of all of those things," she says. "I am so proud to know that they will soon embark on the next part of their life's journey as they begin post-secondary education. I want them to remember that even though things may get tough, hard work pays off and each one of them is capable of succeeding. I look forward to the day when I run into one of them working at a hospital or clinic."

The MCEP program features a blend of core academics and courses with a cultural flavour. Students take courses in pre-calculus math, biology, chemistry, and English, as well as language courses in Ojibwe and Cree. In addition to working on information communication technologies to enhance their computer skills, they also learn traditional Aboriginal ways of healing and medicine.

"Everything is enhanced toward an Aboriginal curriculum," says Jaworski, adding that, for example, each year the students learn about medicinal plants at Birds Hill Park from the school's cultural advisors.

In addition to gaining some insight into the rewarding career opportunities available in health care, MCEP graduates also qualify for a Bright Futures postsecondary scholarship grant of $1,000 for each year they complete in high school as students of the program.

The Manitoba government invested $4 million in the Bright Futures fund for 2011 and 2012, to support programs aimed at improving high school graduation rates and increasing access to postsecondary education for low-income students. First introduced in 2008, the Bright Futures fund brings communitybased organizations and schools together around a common goal: to address many of the key barriers to post-secondary education that are faced by these students.

A number of the students from this year's graduating class have applied to the University of Manitoba's Aboriginal Health Careers Access program. This program offers supports to aboriginal students in the areas of orientation, tutoring, counselling and exam preparation, all with the goal of getting them through to health-care career training as doctors, dentists, occupational or physical therapists, and more.

"While it will be sad to see them go - and there will likely be a lot of tears from me on graduation day - I am filled with excitement for each of them," says Jaworski.

Susie Strachan is a communications advisor with the Winnipeg Health Region.

Below is a brief profile of each student in the graduating class of 2012:

Darian Anderson

Darian's dream is to become a pediatrician.

"I got to see kids getting casts for broken bones at Pan Am. And I was in CancerCare at Health Sciences Centre, where they try to make it as normal as possible for the kids," says Darian. That was enough to get her thinking about pursuing a career that would allow her to help children.

Stacie Jaworski says Darian is an academically strong student with a gift for expressing herself in print.

The first member of her immediate family to pursue a career in health care, Darian has applied to the Aboriginal Health Careers Access program at the University of Manitoba.

"I want to become a pediatrician because I like working with kids. Working with kids is rewarding. I help my mom and step-dad raise my two little siblings at home, and I like doing that. Before I knew that I wanted to be a pediatrician, I knew that I wanted to help kids in some way, whether I was a teacher or a social worker. When I had one-on-one time with a doctor at Pan Am Clinic, this opened my eyes to the possibilities of working with the kids while working in the medical field. I am excited to start working on my goal but I am nervous, too. I know that when I try my hardest, I can achieve what I want and that one day I will be a doctor."

Alexi Hansen

Alexi has set her sights on becoming a paramedic.

"I was interested in physiotherapy or occupational therapy at first but then we did a trip to a fire hall and talked to the paramedics," she says.

"I don't see myself sitting at desk. I like the way the paramedics diagnose, do first aid and CPR, and then transport the person to hospital."

Alexi has applied to the University of Winnipeg, where she hopes to take some foundation courses before attending Red River College's Primary Care Paramedic course.

Stacie Jaworski says Alexi has matured over the last three years. A student once known for missing the odd class, Alexi has has morphed into one who is driven to succeed. "I told her she could do it. I knew she had it in her, and something clicked and she's on track now."

Born in Winnipeg, Alexi has ties to the Peguis First Nation, where her uncle was a paramedic. At some point, she would like to work a summer with the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service, which offers internships for MCEP students.

"My goal is set on being a paramedic. I want to do this because I enjoy helping people and I know it would be a good career," she says. "There are other careers in the medical field that are interesting to me too. I'm going to try the University of Winnipeg next year, and see what my options are there. I have always thought I would be a veterinarian since I was a little girl and sometimes I think that would be an interesting career, too. In five years, I see myself having a good job or continuing my studies."

Beverly Pettit

Beverly wants to become a surgeon.

A quick learner in all her courses, including math, Beverly came to Children of the Earth a year and a half ago, transferring from a French immersion high school.

"She has 97 per cent in every class. She got a 94, and wanted to get higher than that. She's so driven," says Stacie Jaworski. "She picks up things incredibly fast."

"Next year, I'll be starting my pre-med at the University of Winnipeg. In the long run, I want to become a surgeon that specializes in critical care and things like that," says Beverly. "I wanted to be a paramedic so I could save up to return to school, but thanks to a huge scholarship that I received, I want to pursue my future career of becoming a surgeon right away. I want to be a surgeon because I want to help people. I think that working in the medical field is a lot of fun. I know that I'm smart enough to do it, so why not!"

At school, she enjoys chemistry and math the most, because she "gets" those subjects. She also likes learning how things work inside the human body, and is always asking her teacher questions.

"I like coming to Pan Am (Clinic). It gives us an insight into what to expect. It's not like they show it on TV. This is reality, which isn't like on CSI where things go fast. Or Grey's Anatomy. It's not always all critical work. A lot of the time it will be someone feeling sick, minor cases," she says, adding she likes the hands-on work more than watching someone else treat a patient or listening to lectures.

Shayleen Ponace

Shayleen would like to become a nurse. Or perhaps a doctor.

"I like staying on my feet, staying busy. So I was thinking of Emergency Department nursing," she says. "Nurses are in charge of a group of patients, so my job would be to make them feel better."

But she is also attracted to the idea of becoming a pediatrician. Shayleen got a close-up look at both career possibilities through MCEP.

"Going to HSC was amazing," she says. "I followed the vascular access team around and watched them put IVs into patients. I got to follow nurses and health-care aides. I saw a brain tumour at the MRI; I could see all the vessels around the tumour, and that was so interesting," she says.

Shayleen has also stepped up her performance in the last year and a half. "One day she got a 79 in math, and immediately wanted to know how to make up for that," says Stacie Jaworski. "She's really interested in health care, and is thinking about working up north."

"I want to encourage all of my little cousins and siblings to finish school and do something with their lives. I want to be a positive role model for all of them. Going to university will show them that if I can do it, they can do it," says Shayleen. "As much as they encourage me, I want to encourage them. I want to help people feel better because when they're sick and I help them, it feels good to know that they can think, 'Thanks to Shayleen, I'm feeling great. If it wasn't for her by my side, I would still be sick.' It's a good feeling inside when you know that you are making people feel better."

"Growing up in northern Manitoba, I know there are not that many health-care professionals in those communities. I would like to make a difference in people's lives up there, especially for the people who cannot leave their reservations and need help."

Brenna Mallette

Brenna thought she'd grow up and become a hair dresser, something she has a talent for. Her time in MCEP has changed her focus, and now she's interested in becoming an occupational therapist.

"In five years, I will almost be done university," says Mallette. "I have applied for the Health Careers Access Program at the University of Manitoba, and I start in August. I want to pursue occupational therapy because it opens up a variety of fields and places to work. There are so many options with occupational therapy," she says.

"I want to be an occupational therapist because it really interested me in helping people who have had strokes and heart attacks and who can't really move or are paralyzed. I like seeing patients' progress and how people are able to recover after injury. One day I see myself maybe working in Child Life at the Health Sciences Centre."

Stacie Jaworski says the time Brenna spent in the MCEP program solidified her decision to switch career paths. "Going to the Pan Am Clinic and HSC has shown Brenna that there are more careers in health than just a doctor or a nurse. She latched onto the idea of occupational therapy and she's going to run with it."

Through MCEP, Brenna worked in the Occupational Therapy Department at HSC, learning how stroke victims are rehabilitated.

"They cast the person's good arm, which would force them to do activities with their weak arm, like stacking up plates, washing stuff and ironing," she says.

Emily Thompson

Whichever post-secondary or career path Emily chooses, her future looks bright. Stacie Jaworski says that when Emily commits herself to something and is self-confident, she always achieves success.

For now, the MCEP graduate is considering her future options. She is thinking about enrolling in a program at Red River College or Urban Circle to become a health-care aide. But she's also thinking about the possibility of attending medical school and becoming a doctor.

"I want to get an education because I want to do something with my life," says Thompson.

"I know that if I do not get an education, I might not have the best career. My mom inspired me to stay in school and to accomplish things for myself. I feel good when I do things for myself like coming to school and getting good marks," she says.

"I have thought about being a health-care aide, police officer, doctor, and a nurse, but I am not exactly sure what I want to do yet. In ten years I know that I will have reached one of these goals and be working in a career that I really want."

Emily's interest in health care is understandable - her mother is a health-care aide and she has an aunt who is a licensed practical nurse. Both of them have talked to Emily about the realities and rewards of working in health care.

She knows that graduation from MCEP means she'll have to push herself harder, but she is confident and bright.

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