UBC medicine, nursing pledge to 'actively work to end anti-Indigenous racism' after Turpel-Lafond health care report

A recently published report on systemic anti-Indigenous racism within BC’s health care system made several policy recommendations applicable to UBC’s Faculty of Medicine and School of Nursing.

On November 30, Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (Aki-kwe), a professor at the Allard School of Law and member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, released In Plain Sight, a 228-page report summarizing her independent investigation into anti-Indigenous discrimination within BC health facilities.

After surveying 9,000 patients and health care workers, including medical students from UBC, investigators found that Indigenous-specific racism was “widespread and insidious,” resulting in abusive interactions, denials of service and medical mistakes.

At the end of their report, Turpel-Lafond and her team made 24 recommendations for future actions, with 8 relating to UBC’s health-education programs.

One calls on the Faculty of Medicine to create a joint degree in medicine and Indigenous medicine.

“So you do your degree in medicine, but you have an extra qualification in Indigenous medicine and begin to take more seriously Indigenous knowledge [and] wellness,” said Turpel-Lafond in an interview with The Ubyssey.

Other recommendations include mandating a course on Indigenous health and anti-Indigenous racism; increasing the enrolment of Indigenous students, particularly students from BC’s First Nations; and hiring more Indigenous people into faculty and leadership roles.

“I would like to see there be more senior leadership in nursing and in medicine, more Indigenous faculty, well-positioned clearly in leadership and supported to begin to make these transitions,” Turpel-Lafond said.

Turpel-Lafond wants the university to offer a more “robust” response to her investigation, but believes that leadership is committed to addressing anti-Indigenous racism in health care.

“[UBC] may not have responded in a precise way yet, but I did feel they have enormous insight and understanding, and a very strong commitment to address this.”

At a recent Board of Governors meeting, President Santa Ono “fully committed” to Turpel-Lafond’s recommendations. The Faculty of Medicine and School of Nursing have released statements as well.

In his statement for the Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Dermot Kelleher, dean and UBC’s VP health, thanked Turpel-Lafond’s team and described their findings as “troubling, but tragically, not unexpected.”

“Let there be no doubt, we at UBC will actively collaborate in the work needed to transform our health care system to make it accessible, safe, and a positive contributor to the health and wellness of Indigenous Peoples,” he wrote.

Kelleher outlined several ongoing projects that address the report’s recommendations, like the faculty’s 23 24 Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program that teaches students Indigenous cultural safety and humility.

Turpel-Lafond acknowledges the work the faculty has done so far, but believes more can be done.

“The reason they made the recommendations was because we didn’t think what was there was adequate,” she added.

The School of Nursing, in a separate statement, expressed many of the same ideas as Kelleher.

“We affirm that the UBC School of Nursing is taking a leadership role in educating nurses to mitigate the harms, and to actively work to end anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination in health care,” the faculty wrote.

Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, the director of the School of Nursing, said she was upset, but not surprised, while reading the report.

“Our nursing code of ethics is really clear about our role to promote health for all people … the stories that I read, especially the stories where nurses were engaging in racist actions just made me angry,” she said.

The director believes that it is the role of UBC’s nursing program to “bear an unflinching look” at how they are contributing to systemic anti-Indigenous racism and find ways to change.

A few years ago, the school established an Indigenous Cultural Safety Strategic Initiatives committee.

“There's not only decision makers, like leadership in the school being part of this committee along with faculty and students, but that there's a reporting or accountability mechanism,” Saewyc said.

Each month, the committee releases a report with proposed policy changes aimed at helping the faculty bring “cultural safety into our practices.”

An Indigenous Advisory Council composed of Indigenous nurses, elders and leaders from across BC was also formed this past summer to provide advice and consultation.

With the help of these groups, the school has created a mandatory course on Indigenous health for undergraduate students. There is not an equivalent course required for graduate students, but “it’s on the table,” according to Saewyc.

The faculty is also working to increase Indigenous student enrolment with the help of Dr. Margaret Moss, a nursing professor at UBC and an investigator on Turpel-Lafond’s team.

“We have a special information night for information about applying to the school that is for Indigenous students specifically.”

Saewyc said she knows that there is much more work to do.

“Because systemic racism is such a historical legacy, such a bedrock unfortunately, in how things are structured ... we have a lot of work to do to undo that, and to create better systems and structures to ensure success for students. We are committed to the work.”

— with files from Charlotte Alden