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From the ambulance to the OR: program gives indigenous students hands-on experience in medicine


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Julien Catagas fainted while watching her first surgery from inside the operating room.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/05/2016 (2331 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Julien Catagas fainted while watching her first surgery from inside the operating room.

But after a short rest, the 16-year-old Children of the Earth High School student was ready for another.

“Surgery is really cool. It’s probably the best part. It’s like Grey’s Anatomy right in front of you,” says Catagas.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Pan Am Clinic nurse Pam Doering (right) shows Children of the Earth High School student Bianca Ballantyne some of the equipment in an operating room.

Her experience is all part of the medical careers exploration program at Children of the Earth, an indigenous-centred school on Salter Street.

In the cutting-edge program founded by the Pan Am Clinic, selected students — who can start as early as Grade 10 — have the opportunity to observe medical staff on the job.

But it’s more than just following doctors around. The students — there are currently 33 registered for the hands-on portion of the program — are able to see everything that goes on inside the clinic at 75 Poseidon Bay.

“We wanted to make it different than just work-shadowing. We wanted them to become part of the clinic,” says CEO Dr. Wayne Hildahl, who started the program in 2007 with then-Children of the Earth principal Lorne Belmore.

Hildahl says the program is a way to begin addressing a Winnipeg Regional Health Authority need for more health-care workers. He says indigenous people make up a tiny percentage of the WRHA’s health-care staff.

“I pitched it as, ‘Here’s a huge population, (and there is) a reservoir of students who have fabulous potential that we aren’t tapping into. Why aren’t we doing it?’” says Hildahl, noting that an added benefit is boosting the self-esteem of participants, many of whom face “challenging personal circumstances.”

“Our belief at the time was they had great potential and they could do this. They could go into medicine. They could go into nursing. We just needed to do something to convince them that it was doable for them.”

Nine years later, what started as a Pan Am Clinic-only program has expanded to include Grace Hospital, Health Sciences Centre and Red River College, where teens explore nursing and animal-health courses. Misericordia Health Centre has signed on for next year’s program.

Catagas still can’t believe she was in the operating room alone with a patient, the surgeon and his staff.

“(The patient’s) shoulder… was clamped open. And they were using something to burn his skin off. In the room, it smelled like burned skin. (The patient) was awake too, but he couldn’t feel anything. They covered up his shoulder or he would have freaked out if he saw his flesh,” recalls the teen, who is considering a nursing career.

She says her impression of doctors has changed since beginning her stint at Pan Am.

“Before I actually got to talk to a doctor, I thought they were super, super busy. I thought they would be kind of stuck up,” she says. “But… the doctor was talking to me, working on the guy at the same time and telling me how fun it is to be a doctor.

“He was really nice and gave me advice about med school.”

Children of the Earth student Samantha Flett, 16, prepared for her time in the OR watching surgery videos online so she wouldn’t “get squirmy.”

When she witnessed her first sports-injury surgery at Pan Am, she was fascinated.

“It was gross but cool,” says Flett, who wants to become an X-ray technician.

The students have come a long way since their orientation weeks ago, when, in a meeting room at the Grant Park-area clinic, a group of young, new medical personnel got a lesson on Manitoba’s health privacy laws.

After the serious discussion about keeping the health status of patients private and accessing patient files only with permission, each member of the group signs a document promising not to violate the privacy of any patients.

“It was kind of a no-brainer for me; don’t share what you’re not supposed to,” says Brandon Chartrand, 15, who is willing to do whatever necessary to begin a five-week stint working with physicians, nurses, X-ray technicians, and other medical staff.

Chartrand was one of 14 Grade 10 students at the Pan Am Clinic waiting to get their scrubs and identification badges.

In a health-care system tainted by the wrongful death of aboriginal patient Brian Sinclair in 2008 — after he waited in HSC’s emergency room for 34 hours without receiving care — Hildahl hopes indigenous students learn “a lot of good things happen” inside the city’s hospitals.

Students in the program attend specialized, science-based classes at their school to prepare them for the in-the-field practicum.

The program takes place during school hours and counts for class credit, says Children of the Earth principal Jackie Connell.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Pan Am Clinic MRI technologist Chrissy Mutual (left) with Grade 10 student Trina White from Children of the Earth High School.

Connell says the program has created a buzz around school, starting with Grade 9 students who are exposed to the program on a annual field trip. There’s a waiting list to become a participant.

“It’s definitely viewed (by the students) as prestigious,” says Connell.

Hildahl made an appearance at Pan Am’s privacy seminar; the students looked on in admiration were loaded with questions.

“What kind of a doctor are you?”

“How long have you been a doctor?”

And the burning question since the students realized they are in a clinic that specializes in sports injuries: “Will we see any Winnipeg Jets here?”

Chartrand says he doesn’t care about seeing a hockey star, since he isn’t much of “a celebrity guy.”

Rather, he’s focused on a career in pediatrics or mental health. He says mental-health issues hit close to home, as a family member struggles with depression.

“I don’t like to see people in pain like that. I just want to be able to help,” says Chartrand. “I like to put smiles on people’s faces.”

He looks forward to watching a surgery in action from inside the operating room, though he’s not sure he’d like to perform it himself.

“I don’t know about that,” he says. “But I would like to see it — see how it’s done.”

Children of the Earth student Dawnis Gaywish is also excited about being in the operating room at Pan Am.

“I think it would be a cool to watch someone get surgery for a displaced fracture and they have to put it back in place.”

Colten Pratt, 20, who is a graduate of the program, has become a paramedic. His mother encouraged him to leave his River Heights school to attend Children of the Earth so he could get into the program.

“I bused down there every day — for 30 minutes on a good day and one hour on a heavy traffic day,” says Pratt, who has no regrets and loved the paramedic ride-along that Pan Am arranged for him while in the program.

“(Without the program), I probably wouldn’t be working right now.”

Emmy Sky-Gaskin, 20, another graduate, is taking nursing-assistant classes before she starts nursing school. It was the program that convinced her to pursue nursing.

“I am an very indecisive person,” says Sky-Gaskin. “This really solidified my decision.”

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Updated on Monday, May 16, 2016 12:07 PM CDT: Adds photos

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