On the job

Program gives students a closer look at a career in medicine

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Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Summer 2014

Dillon Courchene was just eight years old when he decided he wanted to become a doctor.

"It was always the first career that popped into my head when I was younger," says Courchene. "I had positive experiences when I was a child - I had a hernia - and I really appreciated the care I received."

The desire to become a physician was affirmed this year when he participated in the Medical Careers Exploration Program (MCEP). Created through a partnership of the Winnipeg Health Region's Pan Am Clinic, Children of the Earth High School 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 Winnipeg.

Courchene is one of six students to graduate from the program this year, and will be heading to the University of Manitoba in the fall for his undergraduate degree.

"My family members really support my career choice to be a doctor. More specifically, my dad directed me toward this medical program at (Children of the Earth). . . It was a great decision on his part and I am thankful for the opportunity."

Launched in 2007, the first class of five students graduated in 2011, six more graduated in 2012, followed by five in 2013, and six more this year.

The MCEP 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. MCEP graduates also qualify for a Bright Futures post-secondary scholarship grant of $1,000 for each year they complete in high school as students of the program.

MCEP is designed to prepare students for a future in health care by reinforcing the skills necessary to excel in university. But the academic workload also serves to prepare students who may ultimately wish to pursue a different career path.

Courchene says the opportunity to shadow health-care staff at Pan Am, HSC and the Grace Hospital gave him insight into how they work with their patients and what treatments are available. "I enjoy learning about how things influence your mind. Psychology and psychiatry are interests of mine, and how emotion works on you," he said, adding that neuroscience is another interest.

In May, students visited the medical simulation lab at the University of Manitoba's medical campus. There, they participated in simulations of everything from intubating a patient to doing ultrasounds, and a spinal tap.

"We did CPR on a dummy, with the lights out," says Courchene. "That was to simulate what medical staff would have to do in the case of a power failure at the hospital. The people running the simulations definitely have fun. The whole experience was really cool."

He has some suggestions for improving the provision of health care to people of Aboriginal background. "I wrote an essay for school about how doctors and nurses should learn more about traditional Aboriginal-style medicine," says Courchene.

Children of the Earth teacher Travis Delaronde says the MCEP class helps students think about their future. "Some of them, like Dillon and Jennie (Morin) want to go into health-care careers, while the others have different goals. They are all quite intelligent, so no matter what career they do choose, they will do well."

Jennie Morin says the opportunity to talk to doctors, nurses, technicians and aides during her MCEP placement was extremely helpful in terms of raising her awareness about a potential career in health care.

"It showed me that there are so many ways to work in health. I got to ask people questions about what they did, and how much school it took to get there."

Morin's placements landed her at HSC, Pan Am Clinic and the Grace Hospital. She particularly remembers seeing surgery performed at the Grace Hospital that was done by tiny insertions made in a woman's abdomen, with only tiny tools and a scope to see inside. "It was like going on a tour of the inside of a person," she says. "It was interesting to watch. We saw another surgery done with a scope at Pan Am, where the doctor had to cut out excess cartilage on a knee."

She also enjoyed the simulation lab at the U of M's Faculty of Medicine, where Morin was the only student to successfully complete a spinal tap on a dummy. "It was really hard," she says. "But I wanted to be the first person to do it, so I finally figured it out."

As a result of her experience, Morin hopes to train as a paramedic. She has applied to Red River College, but is hoping the Aboriginal-only primary care paramedic course offered as a pilot project last winter by the City of Winnipeg gets a reboot for this fall.

"I'd love to get into that program, if they have it again," she says. "They help you with everything, from getting your driver's licence (to) immunizations. Being a paramedic is a good idea for me. I like the idea of being part of a big team, and it's a job where I wouldn't be in one place all day long."

Delaronde says Morin has great interpersonal skills, adding that becoming a paramedic would be a great career choice for her.

Not every student in the program will necessarily pursue a career in health care.Jasmine Seenie is a case in point.

"I really enjoy the work we're doing," she says. "My auntie is a nurse in remote communities, and she'd take me along on visits," she says. "But now, I'm leaning more towards arts."

After graduating from high school, Seenie says she would like to work for a year, and then perhaps try a few courses at Red River College. "I need to find myself," she says. "I could possibly work and go to school at the same time, if I can find an apprentice program that I like."

Delaronde says Seenie needs time to weigh her options. "She's come through the last three years with a good look at all the different health careers, and you never know, she may come back around to it after she's worked for a year or two and thought about it more."

Others have quite different career paths beckoning. Dakota Chambers-Hourie has applied to study professional photography at Red River College, and eventually hopes to enroll in a graphic design program on the West Coast.

The teen lives in Elmwood with his mother. He says he enjoyed being in the MCEP class and having the opportunity to visit HSC, the Grace and Pan Am Clinic. He says he enjoyed the placement with the Aboriginal Spiritual Care service at HSC.

"My uncle works in patient transport at HSC, so I got to try that," says Chambers-Hourie. "I really enjoyed trying different medical careers, and appreciate the experiences I had," he says.

Cheyla Ponace says she is interested in becoming a professional chef, and has applied to the culinary arts program at Red River College. "I was in a cooking course at the beginning of the school year here, and I found out I really like cooking," she says.

She describes her experience in the MCEP program as wonderful, but thinks she'd become too attached to her patients if she decided to follow up on a medical career. "I'd get too caught up in their lives," she explains. "So I looked at cooking. It's a career that would allow me to travel the world, and learn new cooking styles."

Melvin Ballantyne plans to go to the University of Winnipeg and study chemistry and psychology in the fall. Born in The Pas and raised in Winnipeg, he lives with his mom and siblings.

"Chemistry is my favourite subject," says Ballantyne, adding that being in the MCEP has been a bit surreal. "The school thought I'd be a good person for the program, and it has been interesting going to Pan Am and HSC. I just haven't found anything I really want to do yet."

Delaronde says Ballantyne has plenty of potential. "He's very quick at picking up concepts and asking for help when he needs it."

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

*   *   *

Working on a dream

MCEP graduate one step closer to becoming a paramedic

After eight months in class, followed by six weeks riding in an ambulance, Colten Pratt is set to fulfill his life's dream of becoming a paramedic.

Pratt graduated from the Medical Careers Exploration Program at Children of the Earth High School in June 2013. He then was accepted into the pilot Primary Care Paramedic Training Program for Aboriginal Youth and Young Adults. The program is a partnership between the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and the City of Winnipeg's Community Services Branch under the Oshki Annishinabe Nigaaniwak (OAN) Youth Strategy framework.

Since October, he's had to work harder than ever before, but he's thrilled that he's made it through the gruelling pace set by the eight-month program. "I learned more than I expected to," says Pratt, between classes at the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Academy, located at the north end of McPhillips Street. "People think a paramedic arrives, does a few simple procedures on a person and then loads them into the ambulance for the trip to the hospital. It's much more complicated than that."

Twelve aboriginal men and four women between the ages of 18 to 31 formed the pilot program, says Jason Little, Program Co-ordinator. Since October, they underwent 777 hours of classroom time, 280 hours of ambulance practicum time and 60 hours of clinical time. All graduated in June.

"This is a really cohesive group of students," says Little. "The average class mark is 89 per cent, and the students have adopted a real team approach to learning. They support each other."

The course of study included everything from professionalism to dealing with trauma. As a part of the program, the students visited the 911 Communications Centre, spent time at the Medical Examiner's Office and participated in  a "Hearing Voices" workshop at the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society.

"Paramedics do a lot more than just give rides. We are trained to treat many illnesses and injuries and work with lots of specialized equipment like heart monitors. A primary-care paramedic can administer eight drugs and advanced-care paramedics can give many more," says Pratt, who was the youngest in the class. "I had 98 calls during my six weeks on the streets. In the field, I treated everything from minor illnesses to major trauma, heart attacks and cardiac arrests."

Graduation took place in June at the Millennium Library and was attended by the students' family and friends. The class then had to write the Canadian Organization of Paramedic Regulators exam in July in order to become licensed paramedics in Manitoba.

Training under his belt, Pratt's new goal is to work for the City of Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service.

"I'll be a primary-care paramedic, and I'm very happy to have made it this far," he says. "We've all had to work really hard these past eight months, and I can say that having been in the MCEP and the Aboriginal-only class has made a difference. Not that our instructors were any easier on us, just that it's nice to know you're with a group who's supporting you getting to your goal."



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