After sitting ignored for 34 hours in a Winnipeg hospital waiting room, Brian Sinclair died from an untreated bladder infection.
It’s tragic stories like this that have prompted the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine to have important discussions about incorporating anti-racism training into medical education that would ensure equitable care for all. Earlier this week, they presented an innovative, one-of-a-kind group learning activity that examined the suffering of the Cree man in an immersive film experience.
The film, titled , was the centrepiece of a learning circle, an event conceived by department’s administrative management team as an opportunity for knowledge-building around racism in health care settings and its impact on Indigenous communities in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30.
“In many Indigenous nations… we have a tradition of witnessing where the witness becomes responsible to the community. I really wanted to take that idea and infuse it into this piece.”
Niitsitapi writer and producer Ahnahktsipiitaa, to Global News at the Sundance Film Festival
“Learning something together highlights a group’s values,” says Asiya Rolston, supervisor of business operations on the Department’s Faculty Affairs and Faculty Development team.
“We’re showing our values as a department to be more mindful of necessary changes required in our society,” she says, “and how can we incorporate this vision and knowledge into our day-to-day interactions, inside and outside of the Department.”
Viewed via virtual reality (VR) headset, the 20-minute film immerses viewers in the 360-degree world of Sinclair as well as Adam Pigeon, an abuse and residential school survivor, as they navigate injustice and inequity as Indigenous people. The film calls upon the viewer to bear witness to the injustices, says the film’s Niitsitapi writer and producer, .
“In many Indigenous nations… we have a tradition of witnessing where the witness becomes responsible to the community,” Ahnahktsipiitaa told last year when the film hit the Sundance Film Festival. “I really wanted to take that idea and infuse it into this piece.”
Department of Family Medicine chair Dr. Clare Liddy was joined by various prominent Indigenous and other leaders, including Claudette Commanda, , in leading the day’s events. Activities included group reflection on the cinematic viewing experience facilitated by Indigenous medical students and members of the Faculty of Medicine’s Indigenous Health group.
A faculty development activity led by Dr. Sarah Funnell, assistant professor in the Department and associate dean, Indigenous Health at Queen’s University, further explored approaches to providing better care for Indigenous patients. Dr. Darlene Kitty, director of the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine’s Indigenous Program, also presented TRC 101: A Brief History of Indigenous Realities.
“The journey to reconciliation starts with truth,” says Dr. Kitty. “Knowledge about Indigenous cultures, history and current realities sets a good foundation for family physicians and trainees. It starts them on the path to learning and striving for cultural safety and trauma-informed care.”
The Learning Circle in Recognition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is believed to be the first activity of its kind at the Faculty. It’s also one of a series of recent innovations in medical education conceived by the Department in their efforts to raise the profile of family medicine and address a , one they share with the Faculty.
Including the film in the learning circle was the idea of Dr. Eric Wooltorton, vice-dean of continuing professional development, who recently led the development of an anti-racism module for faculty members as part of a series of modules led by Dr. Denice Lewis, director of curriculum at the Department.
“The modules were developed with and by BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) physician leaders and learners to address gaps in health care experienced by individuals and communities,” says Dr. Wooltorton. “We aim to raise awareness of how to identify health system inequities, and changes needed in health care and training environments.”
The learning circle was co-designed in partnership with the University of Ottawa’s Mashkawazìwogamig Indigenous Resource Centre (IRC). Coordinator Tanya Lalonde explains that Canada has responded to only a portion of the Commission’s calls to action.
“Canada’s government, for example, has been called upon to recognize and implement the health care rights of Indigenous people as identified in law and under the Treaties,” Lalonde says. “The calls extend to those who can effect change within the health care system—such as in increasing and retaining Indigenous health care providers as well as providing training in cultural competency and Indigenous health issues, which requires skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism. As a medical school, it is our responsibility to act on these calls.”
Rolston says that in addition to raising awareness of how the health care system fails Indigenous communities, the event aims to highlight the work being done by Indigenous scholars and artists on the subject to create change and find solutions.
“It’s important that we include the work being done, and that we find ways to learn from it and honour it in our day-to-day lives,” she says.
The learning circle closed with the unveiling of a tapestry created by Emily Brascoupe, a well-known artist in Ottawa. The reflective artwork creation will serve as a physical representation of the department’s commitment to reconciliation, and will hang in the teaching space at 850 Peter Morand Crescent.
The Department’s investment in 30 VR headsets contributes to their longer-term goal of 50% digitization of its curriculum; the headsets join e-modules, gamification and podcasts to its innovative learning tools for learners as well as family physicians Canada-wide.
Rolston reflects on the power of physically sharing space with Adam and Brian via VR technology, highlighting what it means to be in a system that did not work for them.
“The experience calls upon the participants to bear witness,” she says.
“It’s powerful, and it’s uncomfortable, but it’s a very small ask.”