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Medical Matters: The ongoing commitment to Truth and Reconciliation

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Medical Matters, October Messenger 2023 | Posted October 12, 2023
Read time: 3 minutes

Throughout September, the CPSA team engaged in various educational and learning opportunities leading up to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30. Team members had a chance to participate in blanket exercises, view and discuss Indigenous films and listen to a meaningful presentation from Dr. Lana Potts, a Blackfoot family physician specializing in First Nations Health. Through these activities, our team members reflected on the depth and breadth of efforts we must make as individuals and as a society to reconcile with the truth of this country’s past and present to build a culturally safe future through reconciliation.

A significant milestone in CPSA’s own reconciliation journey came on Sept. 20, when CPSA Council Chair Stacey Strilchuk and I had the privilege of signing a Memorandum of Understand (MOU) with our partners at Siksika Nation and Siksika Health Services. This MOU demonstrates that CPSA respects the autonomy and self-government of Siksika Nation, and Siksika recognizes CPSA’s regulatory authority over regulated members practising in their community and our role in accrediting medical facilities on Siksika Nation.

Racism, especially Indigenous-specific racism, is a pressing issue in Alberta’s healthcare system. This MOU signifies CPSA’s commitment to building genuine and meaningful connections that promote equitable, quality health care for Indigenous people. Recognizing and participating in truth and reconciliation efforts is not just a responsibility—it’s a moral imperative for all healthcare providers and leaders.

Indigenous communities continue to face healthcare disparities, including decreased life expectancy and lower levels of emergency care. According to AHS data, in 2020, the life expectancy of a First Nations person in Alberta was 15 years less than that of a non-First Nations person. Our collective efforts need to extend beyond specific dates like Sept. 30. We must commit to truth and reconciliation efforts year-round while actively addressing systemic discrimination within our own healthcare practices and the broader system. We also need to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, especially the seven specific to health.

While repairing relationships and making meaningful change may seem overwhelming, we cannot be paralyzed into inaction. We must take consistent, small steps. Many small actions cumulate and have the potential to create significant change, and most importantly, ensure safe, equitable care. Here are the small and not-so-small steps those of us with settler heritage or who have immigrated to Canada can take:

Education and Self-Reflection

Make a dedicated effort to learn about the experiences and struggles of Indigenous people and communities. It is imperative to educate ourselves on the history, culture and unique healthcare challenges faced by Indigenous patients. Through ongoing education, we are better able to provide culturally safe and equitable care. CPSA’s Indigenous Advisory Circle has shared with us the importance of listening. We need to listen. Then listen some more. Then act.

Cultural Competency

Strive to enhance our cultural competency. This includes understanding the cultural practices, beliefs and values of Indigenous patients and communities within the regions we provide care. Culturally competent care fosters trust and ensures that patients receive care that respects their individuality and unique needs. I found this resource guide recently shared by the AMA to be a very helpful starting point.

Advocacy and Support

As healthcare professionals, we have a duty to advocate for patients. This includes supporting initiatives that address healthcare disparities in Indigenous communities and across the province through efforts like improving access to care and mental health services.

Engagement and Collaboration

Actively engage with Indigenous communities and organizations. Collaboration with Indigenous healthcare providers, leaders and community members can help bridge gaps in healthcare access and foster mutual understanding. Through our strategic direction of Authentic Indigenous Connections, CPSA is working towards substantive and authentic connections and relationships that help us provide quality care in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

Anti-Racism and Anti-Discrimination

Discrimination and racism have no place in health care. We have privilege as leaders in health care, and we have a responsibility to create an inclusive and equitable environment that welcomes patients and colleagues from all backgrounds without bias or prejudice. If you haven’t already, I would recommend taking the Micro-Aggressions course found in your MyCPSA learning platform, co-developed by CPSA, AMA and AHS.

Anti-racism work is not easy work, but we all have a role to play in dismantling the systemic discrimination that has persisted for far too long. I look forward to many more steps along our own journey at CPSA, and to working together to create a more just and equitable healthcare system for all.

What small and not-so-small steps have you taken on your own personal reconciliation journey? I’d love to hear from you.

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