UBC’s Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health (CEIH) has launched a 12-credit Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Public Health (GCIPH) as well as a non-credit certificate to improve Indigenous representation in public health. This initiative marks Canada’s first public health professional development program that has an Indigenous focus.
Aiming to be accessible to professionals who work full time or those who live in remote communities, GCIPH offers four one-week intensive “institutes,” covering two courses per week. Since the institutes only happen twice a year — in February and August — participants are expected to take at least two years to finish the program.
The option to take the courses as either for credit or non-credit — despite their content being the same — also goes toward increasing accessibility, according to CEIH Program Manager Marshal German.
“If someone has been a health director for 20 years, they want to get the knowledge but they don’t necessarily care about getting the academic credit per se,” he said.
“In order to have the program accessible, we knew that it was important to have the option to be credit or non-credit, and we had some really strong partnerships and advocates for us in UBC leadership.”
The brainchild of CEIH Co-Director Dr. Nadine Caron, GCIPH is modelled after a program at Johns Hopkins University’s Centre for American Indian Health that Caron previously taught for a decade. Through that experience, she saw both the programs benefits on the students and their community’s health systems, as well as the need for a similar program in Canada.
“Dr. Caron just saw it as a powerful tool for raising communities to implement self-government in specific health areas,” he said.
“She had the idea of getting a similar program here because there wasn’t a comparable program.... There was no Indigenous public health training in Canada that was majority Indigenous people in the classroom that was accessible to people already working full time or already practicing in their community.”
With the first institute starting in August, German said CGIPH took a year and a half to go through community consultation, curriculum development and UBC’s approval process — but the program was long in the making before this timeline.
“This program was really the impetus behind getting the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health established [in 2014],” he said.
The institute will also host an Elder in Residence throughout the week to advise students, faculty and staff as well as to foster an atmosphere of respectful discussions on Indigenous health issues.
With multiple intersecting calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “we knew it was a critical time to get this kind of programs running at UBC and we are proud to be the first Indigenous health program in Canada,” said German.
According to German, there is a wide range of diversity in the first cohort of 25 students. It includes optometrists, clinicians and licensed practical nurses, among others. While both Indigenous and non-Indigenous applicants are encouraged, most applicants tend to already work in Indigenous communities or focus on Indigenous public health.
“[Having these shared backgrounds] can have a very empowering impact because going to post-secondary, there’s a different reality for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people — and if you sit in a classroom with people who have zero experience with your reality, it can be a very difficult experience,” he said.
“For the first time, [the students] get to be with experienced professional where there is a shared knowledge about that reality.”
Cole Daley, a member of the Chawathil First Nation who recently graduated from UBC with a degree in Integrated Science is part of the first GCIPH cohort. He is also a current WorkLearn student with CEIH, where he works with Indigenous communities to increase their participation in post-secondary studies of science and health-focused disciplines.
“As an Indigenous student and aspiring health-care professional, I have always been passionate about public health challenges concerning Indigenous communities and how research is being carried out to address these challenges,” said Daley in a written response to The Ubyssey.
He is also enthused to be able to learn from Dr. Patricia Spittal — who also collaborated on the development of GCIPH — and Caron, who Daley called “a huge personal role model.”
“We are incredibly excited to finally launch this opportunity to bring Indigenous community members, leaders and health professionals together to learn through dialogue and public health perspectives embedded in the knowledge and inspiration of Indigenous Peoples,” said Caron in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.