How often do you hear stereotypes about your ethnicity or cultural background? Could you rent an apartment in your ideal neighbourhood and feel comfortable living there? How would you react if someone thought you were homeless?
Having doctors, nurses and other health professionals consider these questions can help improve health care for Indigenous women in Canada, according to the creators of a new online training program launched on Tuesday.
The program, called Hearing Our Voices: An Indigenous Women’s Reproductive Health Curriculum, aims to encourage those in health care, from medical residents to receptionists, to reflect on their own biases and learn about the experiences of Indigenous patients and clients.
This type of education has largely been overlooked in health training, but is fundamental to building patients’ trust and helping them receive the care they need – especially when it comes to sensitive issues around reproductive health, says Lisa Richardson, strategic adviser in Indigenous health and associate professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, who co-led the development of the program.
“It’s critical,” she says. Yet, “when you’re comparing it to sort of hard core basic science content, it’s not necessarily been viewed with the same level of rigour or interest.”
This attitude toward Indigenous health education is starting to change, however, Dr. Richardson says. Its importance has been amplified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which called for mandatory training on Indigenous health issues for medical and nursing school students, as well as proposed class-action lawsuits on the forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada, which took place as recently as 2018, she says.
Understanding one’s own biases and where patients come from can mean the difference between having them return for further appointments and making them feel too uncomfortable to come back, says Naana Jumah, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and researcher at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, who also led the development of the program.
It can also mean the difference between creating a practice where women feel safe and welcome and one where they feel they cannot openly discuss their issues, Dr. Jumah added.