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Photo and story By Lindsey Enns
For the first time, Eagle Lake First Nation is hosting two first year Northern Ontario School of Medicine students, Patrick Legault and Megan Baldwin, as part of a culturally enriching experience.
“It is beneficial for us to understand where people come from both on a cultural and social level so that in the future we can provide everyone with better care,” Legault said.
The two students have only been in Eagle Lake for a couple of days but have had already had met people in the community.
“We have been welcomed with opened arms and we really already feel like part of the family,” Legault said.
Baldwin says that she is looking forward to getting to know more about the people in this community.
“People here seem very eager to get to know us and where we come from, so far it’s been a really good experience.”
This four-week internship is embedded in their curriculum and is a requirement for graduation. There are 64 students in their class and in pairs the students are spending time in different rural areas across Ontario.
“We have been able to shadow people that provide services to the community in regards to health, family and addiction services,” Baldwin said. “We are also becoming more aware of the gaps in these services.”
These students will spend the next couple of weeks learning more about this First Nations community and gaining a better understanding of their culture and beliefs.
“We can learn as much as we can in a classroom but this placement is necessary for us to really grasp that concept,” Baldwin said.
The students spent two weeks preparing in class for what they may experience during their internship. Legault said the best piece of advice he was given was just to have an open mind.
“I grew up in a small town but it wasn’t as isolated as we are here.”
Baldwin grew up in Kenora but so far has appreciated the slower pace that comes with living in a rural community.
“So far the people here are very open and we have been able to share candid conversations.”
In regards to her future plans, Baldwin hopes to return to her hometown after graduation and practice psychiatry.
“It’s a long way down the road but this experience has sparked some ideas of working in smaller community.”
Legault hopes to stay in northern Ontario and apply what he has learned here to other small communities while practicing family medicine.
“Being here will allow us to gain a better understanding of First Nation cultures and beliefs.”
The Eagle Lake Health Centre has enjoyed having these interns so much that they signed a yearlong contract with NOSM.
“We are looking forward to exposing more students to our community and we definitely are hoping to keep this going,” Devon MacKinnon Ottertail, economic development and community planning coordinator said.
Over the next couple of weeks the students will help with planning a sweat lodge for youth, take part in a full moon ceremony, go owl calling, play nutrition bingo and learn more about diabetic prevention methods. Legault has even taken it upon himself to learn the language.
“I am trying to learn at least one new word a day.”
But of course with internships like this, safety is always a concern.
“We want to ensure that they are well taken care,” Bernadette Wabange, health director at Eagle Lake Health Centre said.
But Legault ensures her that they are being looked after.
“Our neighbours have told us that they are keeping an eye out for us and want to help keep us safe,” Legault said.
At the end of their four-week placement the students will do a presentation in front of the community showcasing what they’ve learned and to give positive and negative feedback about the community, something that Wabange is looking forward to.
“We want to be able to improve our services and help build a healthier community.”
When they get back to class, the students will do another presentation in front of their colleagues so that they can reflect and share their own personal experiences.
“The best part will be hearing what everyone else’s experiences were like because everyone’s experience will be so different,” Baldwin said.