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Students entering the University of Ottawa’s faculty of medicine were welcomed Wednesday with a special ceremony on Victoria Island, a traditional meeting place of the Algonquin people.

The Indigenous celebration has been part of the faculty’s back-to-school routine since 2005, and is considered an important component of the first-year curriculum.

It’s also chance to raise awareness among the incoming students about the health and social issues affecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis patients, families and communities.

The celebration began with introductory lectures about the Indigenous experience, including the residential school system and traditional healing, followed by a cultural showcase of drumming, singing and dancing.

Here’s what a few of the 165 first-year medical students thought about it. Nathan Chiarletti, 26, Vaughan, Ont.

"My awareness of Indigenous culture, Indigenous spirituality is borderline embarrassing and I don’t expect to become an expert over the next four hours, but I’m just so excited to be immersed in this and to experience an event like today.

Some of the social issues related to the Indigenous population today, like the suicide rates, substance abuse, diabetes, the prevalence of arthritis — I think there are a lot of areas of research to make some of these situations a little bit better.

From what I’ve been learning in the short week-and-a-half we’ve been in medical school is that you don’t just treat the disease, you treat the patient as a whole: Socio-economic status, what that person believes in, what that person’s about. To just focus on, ‘Oh, this person has diabetes, let’s fix it!’ — well, that’s not how medicine should be done." Kaelan Gobeil Odai, 22, Winnipeg, Man.

"With all the presentations we’ve had, it’s really brought everyone on the same page so we can know and appreciate the culture of Aboriginal people of Canada.

I’ve imagined life as a rural, fly-in doctor. Funny enough, my grandfather used to do that. He used to be a rural family doctor in Manitoba, and I have considered that. [It’s] something I would definitely look into.

At the end of the day, we are going to be physicians, we are going to be the advocacy and the voice for marginalized groups, for everybody, so we really aim to get out there and promote their health needs and rights" Jade Taki, 23, Ottawa, Ont.

"Something that’s really important to me is the idea of being a person and thinking that at the end of the day we’re here to represent our society, to take care of them. So, being really in touch with that emotional side of things, and really being compassionate and empathetic toward the people, I feel that’s something that’s becoming more and more important. It’s something that will make us better doctors and better members of society.

Today, I feel that sense of community, of family and the importance of people. So that idea that the patients or the people we’re taking care of have their families, their own story to tell, their own cultures, that’s all very, very important to me.

Today was really an eye-opening experience for me. I’m truly grateful for everything I’ve learned about Indigenous culture." Adam Chubbs-Payne, 23, Corner Brook, N.L.

"I think a big thing in the curriculum here at Ottawa U is treating the patient as a person. That’s something that I think is really important, something that I want to bring into my practice.

It’s amazing to do things like this where you leave the classroom because you can sit there and lecture about it, but just having a hands-on experience, meeting people in the […]

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