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Connecting culture to care

Stephanie McMahon is going places. In fact, that's one of the reasons she decided to go into nursing – because it's a career that can take you anywhere. Last spring it took her to the Philippines. When she graduates, she hopes it will take her to an Indigenous community in rural British Columbia.

Stephanie is part of the Snuneymuxw First Nation and grew up on a small reserve in Nanaimo, BC. At age 16, while working in her Band office, Stephanie learned of the dire need for First Nations nurses. Subsequent employment as a long term care aide showed her that nursing was likely a profession she would enjoy. She also learned that nurses are needed around the world, which would work well with her desire to travel.

For personal reasons, Stephanie dropped out of school in grade 12, so her first step was to do some upgrading at the Nanaimo campus of VIU in order to gain the admission requirements for a post-secondary nursing program. She also spent two months volunteering at a hospital on the Caribbean island of Antigua. After helping out in oncology, pediatrics and the out-patient clinic, she was sure that nursing would indeed be a good career choice.

When she got back home, she applied to Camosun College and moved to Victoria. Although the popular program had a one-year waitlist, she was able to start right away because of Camosun's unique Indigenous priority admissions policy. Now six months into the program, she's loving the experience, and has met many new friends.

"There's a real sense of community here," says Stephanie. "I really feel like I've been welcomed with open arms. The Indigenous Advisors are amazing people and my grades are better because of help I've received in the Writing Centre. And I'm very comfortable talking to my teachers." Stephanie and ten other Indigenous students participate in a weekly gathering with Nursing faculty, who volunteer their time to ensure the students feel welcome and receive whatever cultural and academic support they may need to succeed. Offered in partnership with UVic, Camosun's Nursing program is very demanding, and students need good grades in order to transfer to UVic to complete the final three semesters of their degree.

For the first time in her life, Stephanie is excelling in her studies. She finished her first semester with three As and three Bs. "I've never achieved grades like this before," says Stephanie. "It's because it's something I really want to do, and because of all the support that's available."

Stephanie reflects on cherished memories and teachings gained from tribal journeys with her family. She first participated at age ten, and a more recent experience was in the summer of 2012, when she was one of 22 people in a canoe, paddling and camping from Nanaimo's harbour to Washington State. They joined with canoes that started further north, and were joined by others as they proceeded south. In all, more than 100 canoes and thousands of people from different communities all gathered together at the Squaxin Island destination.

"It's so awesome to be part of something that big, celebrating the culture and traditions of many Nations," says Stephanie. "The tribal journeys definitely helped me understand and appreciate my heritage."

With that respect for her heritage in mind, Stephanie has signed up for a trip to the Philippines, as part of a Camosun College Nursing Field School. Eight students and one instructor will spent six weeks learning about the region and its people, while also volunteering at a local hospital.

To prepare for the trip, Stephanie read up on the history and multi-cultural aspects of the Philippines.  "I wanted to see first-hand how the various cultures influence day-to-day life," Stephanie explains. "Someday I want to work in a rural Indigenous community, and I am looking for ways to incorporate our own culture and traditions into health care practices. Much of the pain and suffering we see in some of our communities comes from losing the connection to our heritage. That's something I hope to change."

Change Everything

Last updated: May 3, 2016 3:37 pm

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