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Dr. Jean Goodwill from Little Pine reserve has an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Queen's University; but, her professional training is in nursing.
For thirty years she has worked in Saskatchewan and she is currently serving her third term as President of the Indian and Inuit Nurses Association of Canada.
Jean was in Regina last month. Between her conference calls with health representatives from around Canada, and getting ready to go to a pow-wow, she met with me and talked about her career as a health professional and the need for more Indian health professionals in Saskatchewan.
"When I was in nurse's training at the Holy Family Hospital in Prince Albert, one of the things that I could do that other nurses couldn't do was interpret for the Cree patients.
The look on some of their faces was incredible. You could just tell that they felt so great be cause they had somebody that they could communicate with.
Some of them would get such a kick out of it because I had a different dialect than they did and we would joke about it.
Being an Indian nurse is no different in terms of basic training. We had to meet the same standards.
The difference was the fact that we are the ones that understand our language, our culture and the lifestyle of our people.
One of the most important things for anybody in the health profession is communication. If you don't understand what your patient is talking about, or if they don't understand what you're trying to tell them ... I often wonder how my colleagues in the north get by without an interpreter?
In the late 1950's I worked for two years at the nursing station in La Ronge. I was on call 24 hours a day - handling emergencies and delivering babies. We delivered 50 babies in one year.
It was a very hectic life but it was one of the highlights of my career.
In the first year I just had two-way radio communication with the outside world ... which was Prince Albert. It certainly taught me many things - responsibility and how to make my own decisions, and management.
When I was in my second year in La Ronge a call came through in the night that a lady in Stanley Mission was having a baby and they were expecting complications.
When the doctor came in I told and he said, "Well you know what to do ... why don't you go?"
"But," he said, "I have a medical student from the university here and it would be interesting for him to come with you."
So this young medical student came with me to Stanley Mission.
Half the community was out to meet us (as they always did) and they directed us to the house.
We went in and there were all these little old ladies sitting around on the floor, laughing and talking Cree. And there was this woman lying there obviously quite unhappy.
I could tell this medical student was getting very nervous.
But the ladies were all having a great big joke because apparently there had been a dance the night before and the lady went into labour there. So they decided to bring her home and deliver the baby.
But they said there was another one ... she was having twins.
I told him this and he just panicked.
So I called the doctor (in La Ronge) on the two-way radio and he said, "Well it is very unusual for her contractions to stop. Do you think you can bring her in?"
Well, when we got her into the plane this medical student was just sweating ... he was in a state you wouldn't believe.
Even the pilot said to him, "For God's sake Doc, I've had women deliver babies in this plane all by themselves."
She had that kid in La Ronge and the mother named her two babies after the two doctors.
One of the critical things that they talk about with the transfer of health services is the human resources. We need health administrators, nurses, doctors, and environmental health officers.
If you have a lot more Indian people going into health careers I think you'll have a lot more of them recognizing the importance of health.
They will start getting concerned and hopefully they will go back to their communities and say, "This is what's wrong. Let's do something about it."
That's better than having non-Indian health professionals coming and going.
Nurses (on reserve) sometimes last only six months. What can you accomplish in six months?
If you're ever going to improve the conditions in a community, you have to understand that community and help it develop something positive ... something that deals with prevention (of health problems).
One of the things we need to do is get a real recruitment program going.
In my generation I thought that nursing was for other people. I thought it was something that I could never reach.
We need to go out there and talk to students, and not just high school students. By the time they've reached high school they don't have their sciences and math.
We've got to reach them at the public school level, to encourage the kids and get them thinking that health careers are attainable.
It helps to have role models and the health career graduates become very good role models. It makes a big difference to Indian students if they say, "Hey, if she can make it I can too."
You have to understand it's a lifetime profession. It takes on the average five or seven years of training. But its very rewarding profession, it's a well paying position and you'll never be without a job.
Nursing is accepted anywhere in the world so you don't have to stay in Canada. You get out in the world and travel and work your way around if you want to.
I went to Bermuda to work for a year as a nurse. I had seen the Canadian Nurse (magazine) that they needed nurses there and thought, "Why not?"
So off I went by myself and I had a most marvelous year. It was like a working holiday and it was a real eye opener for me.
When you get into a health profession it just opens the doors for so many things; because as a health professional you learn to understand people in all walks life.
When you see a patient in a pair of pajamas you don't know where he comes from. He could come from the gutter or they could be one of the biggest executives town. You treat them all as human beings.