A Saskatchewan Adventure – JCU Australian Exchange 2018

University of Saskatchewan – Making the Links

Cultural Immersion Exchange Program

November – December 2018

Written By: Maddy Brown

Unlike my travelling companion Mac, my knowledge of English literature is fairly limited, and moulded by the great philosophers and authors studied in my Year 12 English class.

However, when reflecting on my month long rural medical placement throughout Saskatchewan, my favourite Year 12 philosopher, Alain de Botton, once again, pulled through with the goods. In his text Art of Travel, de Botton suggested that, “journeys are the midwives of thought…” Indeed, my experiences in Saskatchewan gave birth to new insights into the multitude of factors that contribute to the health status of Canada’s Indigenous people, whilst challenging my understanding of healthcare in my own country.

Throughout our two weeks in Saskatoon, Mac and I were warmly welcomed by the University of Saskatchewan community. Under the guidance of Carlyn, Val and Cal, we were offered insights into the cultural and spiritual beliefs of Canada’s First Nations and Metis People, as well as the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual trauma that continues to influence the inequalities experienced by these people, even to this day. Whilst it is hard to pinpoint a single highlight of our time in Saskatoon, my thanks go out to Bob Badger and his family at the Kawacatoose Reserve. The Badger family humbly welcomed Mac and I into their home to participate in a traditional Sweatlodge Ceremony and feast – an experience I will never forget. Bob’s willingness to share his knowledge and wisdom is a testament to the resilience of his people, and the strength of culture in overcoming enormous adversity.

Our opportunities to learn were countless in Saskatoon. Some of the most valuable experiences included those at the SWITCH Clinic and Station 20 West, both of which humanised the social determinants of health. I was humbled by the generosity of all of those who welcomed Mac and I into their workplaces. For me, their attitudes towards their work, and those they are working with, was just as inspiring as the actual work itself, and one of the greatest lessons I took from my Saskatchewan experience was the power of their empathy and humility.

On our great journey through Saskatchewan, Mac and I were privileged to experience the diversity of rural medicine in a number of settings, many of which I had never previously experienced. In Fort Qu’apelle, the All Nations’ Healing Hospital provided an exempla model of the fusion of western and traditional medicine in the management of renal dialysis – a major health issue amongst Indigenous communities of both Canada and Australia. The Needle Exchange program delivered out of Access Place in Prince Albert modelled the role of harm reduction strategies in community health and infectious disease control, whilst the centre itself emphasised the importance of opportunistic care in helping society’s most vulnerable members.

One of the highlights of my Saskatchewan adventure was the ten days spent in the northern village of Ile-A-La-Crosse. Amongst ice fishing, cross country skiing, sledding, ice hockey and northern light chasing, we were privy to some inspirational rural medicine, driven by the team of doctors at Ile-A-La-Crosse hospital. Here, we saw the medical staff live and breathe their community; a huge investment that bred a deep respect and rapport amongst those they were serving,. Their dedication to ensure the best outcomes for their patients, despite enormous geographical isolation and support, was inspiring.

My journey through Saskatchewan was life changing in the way in which in re-birthed my perspective of rural medicine. However, the lessons I learnt and the connections I made are an attribution to those who so humbly shared their knowledge, expertise, experiences and homes with both Mac and myself. My thanks goes to Carlyn, Val and Cal at the University of Saskatchewan for the time and generosity they invested in organising this wonderful experiences. Thank you also to the much respected Dr Tom Smith-Windsor for his generosity in hosting Mac and I, and sharing his passion for rural medicine. Thank you also to Sharon Favel and the entire Ile-A-La-Crosse community, including Darcey and Reid McGonigle for making the very cold Ile-A-La-Crosse such a warm and welcoming place.