Challenges remain for Mi'kmaq entering nursing in Nova Scotia, experts say

A nurse prepares tools for a medical procedure. (ChaNaWiT/Shutterstock - image credit)
A nurse prepares tools for a medical procedure. (ChaNaWiT/Shutterstock - image credit)

There is a need for more Mi'kmaw nurses in the Nova Scotia health-care system, but Mi'kmaw experts say obstacles to entry continue to keep their numbers low.

While many Mi'kmaw nurses work in the mainstream health-care system, Sharon Rudderham of the Tajikeimik Mi'kmaw Health and Wellness Transformation Organization says their dream is to work in their own community.

"There are a lot of our Mi'kmaw nurses that would love the opportunity to work in our community," Rudderham told CBC's Mainstreet Nova Scotia.

Describing the health-care system as "very colonized," Rudderham said support is needed to create pathways for Indigenous students into the health system.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Rudderham said there is a need to work with government and universities to find funding and develop strategies that create more "culturally safe and trauma-informed experiences" for nurses.

Julie Francis, the L'nu health chair at Unima'ki College at Cape Breton University, said her people prefer to receive care from Mi'kmaw nurses inside and outside their communities.

Space to share experiences

Francis said Mi'kmaw nurses provide people in their communities with a space to share their experiences and to be  heard.

"When people can encounter a Mi'kmaw nurse, they're going to have improved outcomes and it's going to contribute to improving the health of our community," Francis said.

Francis recalled that when she was in the nursing program at St. Francis Xavier University, students were asked why they wanted to be a nurse.

She said many people in the class said it was because someone in their family had been a nurse but she had no such examples in her own family.

She said she didn't understand it at the time but it was a result of systemic racism in health care and education caused by colonialism and the Indian Act.

Francis said much work remains to be done to overcome those harms.