Two-Eyed Seeing in Medicine

I recently attended the Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME) in Winnipeg. This meeting is an increasingly significant event for collegial interaction with peers across the country, faculty development and dissemination of medical education scholarship. It’s a collaboration of the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC), the College of Family Physicians Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the Medical Council of Canada and the Canadian Association of Medical Educators. The CoM was well represented throughout the meeting (which for me also entails two days of AFMC Board meetings—part of the price one pays for these jobs!).

On the other hand, a highlight was dinner with eight members of our Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan, who were in Winnipeg for meetings with the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. I congratulate these students for their leadership on the national scene of undergraduate medical education.

The opening plenary session at CCME is always the Wendell J. MacLeod Memorial Lecture. MacLeod was our college’s first dean and the first president of the precursor to the AFMC. This year we heard an extremely thoughtful and moving address on the history of residential schools and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by Ry Moran, Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The AFMC devoted a half-day of the board meeting to the AFMC’s and each medical school’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We were joined by many faculty members, medical education leaders, partner organizations, learners, and Indigenous faculty, learners and leaders.

While it is clear that we have so much more work to do in addressing the TRC recommendations and serving our Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan, I can also say that the U of S and the CoM are seen as national leaders in this mission. In fact, one of the breakout group questions was about incorporating Indigenous Health in our mission statement, and I was able to share the great work we have accomplished with our very inclusive and collegial strategic planning process in the last year.

I call your attention to the plan on our website, and provide here our new Mission statement:
As a socially accountable organization, we improve health through innovative and interdisciplinary research and education, leadership, community engagement, and the development of culturally competent, skilled clinicians and scientists. Collaborative and mutually beneficial partnerships with Indigenous peoples and communities are central to our mission.

And as one of our seven strategic priorities, we declare on Indigenous Health that we will:
Respond to the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Report and work in a mutually beneficial and collaborative manner with the Indigenous peoples of Saskatchewan to define and address the present and emerging health needs in their communities.

As many will know, we now have 73 self-identified Indigenous graduates of our MD program and 19 of those physicians have taken up faculty appointment with our college. Of the 143 UGME students identified in all Canadian medical schools, the U of S and the University of Manitoba account for nearly 50 per cent!

I was both proud and extremely impressed as our alumnus and Metis physician Dr. Alika Lafontaine, MD Class of 2006, provided the keynote address to this very important discussion. Alika was extremely articulate in describing his work on the history of engagement with Indigenous communities and I know we all learned a great deal from him. And more importantly, we understood that we need to both learn and do a lot more for Indigenous communities and Indigenous Health.

In that regard, with members of our Indigenous Health Committee, we will further develop our strategic priority of Indigenous Health at our senior leadership retreat later this month. At a very profound pipe ceremony led by Knowledge Keeper Bob Badger, the search for our Chair in Aboriginal Health was launched earlier this year.

So this meeting confirmed for me the importance of what we are doing on Indigenous Health, but it was really reinforced by the book I am currently reading: Determinants of Indigenous People’s Health in Canada: Beyond the Social. I am learning a lot from the book, written primarily by Indigenous scholars from across Canada, and am particularity intrigued by the concept identified in the chapter titled Two-Eyed Seeing in Medicine.

This concept is elegantly explained in an essay by Murdena Marshall and Albert Marshall, who are described as deeply valued Elders from the Mi’kmaw Nation, and Cheryl Bartlett, a former Tier 1 Canada research chair in integrative science. All three were at Cape Breton University, the leading university in Atlantic Canada in serving Indigenous peoples and the five First Nations in Cape Breton. From that essay:

 “Albert is the person who coined the phrase “Two-Eyed Seeing”/Etuaptmumk as a guiding principle for collaborative work that encourages learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledge and ways of knowing, and learning to use both these eyes together for the benefit of all.”

While recognizing the absolute importance of the social determinants of health, the book explains that the determinants of Indigenous Health go much further, to include connection to the land and geography, language, self-determination, reconciliation and so much more! I highly recommend the book to all.

As we continue on our mission to serve our Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan, I hope I and the CoM learn to see with two eyes. As always, I welcome your feedback and look forward to your thoughts.