June 4, 2024

Med school sabbatical leads to reflection on Indigenous knowledge

Enhancements in Internal Medicine made to better support Indigenous care
A 'one child every child' flag
UCalgary clinical assistant prof’s academic sabbatical became opportunity to pursue deeper understanding of Indigenous Peoples' history in Canada. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

For Dr. Paul Davis, a recent academic sabbatical became an opportunity to pursue a deeper understanding of Canada’s Indigenous past.

Davis, MD'08, works at a general internal medicine clinic once a month at Siksika Nation southeast of Calgary, as he has for much of the last four years. He is an internist, or doctor specializing in treatment of internal organs, at the South Health Campus and member of the University of Calgary Medical Group (UCMG) at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). 

Davis says the clinic and the people he sees inspired him to spend the sabbatical time away learning about Indigenous people, their history from their perspective, their culture and health care in Canada.

I have worked at the clinic for years, but always felt my knowledge of Indigenous history and culture, from their perspective, was limited,” says Davis, who is of Irish and Scottish ancestry. “One goal I had for my sabbatical was to change that to educate myself.”

Davis attended virtual lectures, including meetings hosted by the National Collaboration Centre for Indigenous Health, Fireside Chats led by the Canadian Medical Association and events hosted by Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He also completed an online course on Indigenous Canada, which he would encourage others to do as well.

There are several books he read that he recommends others interested in embarking on a similar journey consider reading including:

  • Valley of the Birdtail by Andrew Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson
  • Call Me Indian by Fred Sasakamoose
  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
  • Our Story: Aboriginal Voices on Canada’s Past by numerous authors

General internists provide comprehensive clinical care for people with complex medical conditions. Upon his return to his work in the Department of Medicine’s Division of General Internal Medicine, Davis set out to share some of his learnings. He helped initiate a needs assessment of Indigenous health within the division, meeting with colleagues and experts outside the department with experience establishing health-care delivery models in First Nations communities.

With the support of Dr. Kelle Hurd, MD'16, vice-chair of Indigenous health in the department, the needs assessment helped re-establish the General Internal Medicine clinic at Stoney Nakoda First Nation in July 2023 and the creation of a 12-month Indigenous health clinic rotation which includes a postgraduate fellow.

A feather ceremony

The Cumming School of Medicine’s Indigenous Health Dialogue provides direction for moving Indigenous health forward.

“The journey to reconciliation starts with educating ourselves and sharing our learnings with others about the ongoing effects of colonization, including the impact of residential schools and the Indian hospital system on Indigenous health outcomes in Canada,” says Hurd.

“Dr. Davis embarked on a personal journey to learn how to better address the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action 22-24 in his practice which led to meaningful change in the Department of Medicine,” she says.

UCMG physician members provide patient care, education and lead research projects in various medical specialties. Members receive administrative support and can access sabbatical opportunities, fellowship training awards and other professional development opportunities.

More than 400 professional development sabbaticals have been awarded since UCMG started offering them in the 1990s.

The CSM’s Indigenous Health Dialogue (IHD) provides direction for moving Indigenous health forward, advancing health equity with Indigenous people and their communities. Delivering on the recommendations of IHD is one of five priorities within the CSM’s strategic plan, Reimagining Health for All, Ahead of Tomorrow.

Paul Davis is a general internist and clinical assistant professor based at the South Health Campus in the Department of Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine.

Kelle Hurd is a general internist, obstetric internist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. She is vice-chair of Indigenous Health in the Department of Medicine. She is a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta.

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