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Dr. Nadine Caron is the first female First Nations student to graduate from the University of B.C.’s medical school.

For much of the year, Globe and Mail journalists in the B.C. bureau worked to reveal the work of policy makers, authority figures and ordinary citizens. Much focus was on safety in British Columbia's mills and mines, concerns over resource development, labour strife between the province and its teachers and the future of transit investment. Our job was to raise questions and look at the impact of weak links.

Over the holiday period, our reporters are turning their attention to the things that are working well in British Columbia.

The first series – Things that Work – takes a look at businesses, services and infrastructure that are not often heralded because, well, they actually work well. We will profile a company on Vancouver Island that has revived the Twin Otter aircraft and a woman who runs a home-based business helping embarrassed and itching families get rid of head lice. We will look at the Sea to Sky Highway improvements and the Point Grey bike lane.

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The second series introduces readers to the next generation of innovators, the people you have never heard of but soon will. We asked prominent British Columbians to nominate people they are keeping an eye on. Among our instalments: Grand Chief Ed John has nominated a busy aboriginal doctor, and former premier Glen Clark has nominated an environmental entrepreneur.

Nominator: Grand Chief Ed John. A lawyer for more than 30 years, serving his ninth term on the First Nations Summit.

Innovator: Nadine Caron, the first female First Nations student to graduate from the University of B.C.'s medical school. She is a surgeon, an associate professor at the University of Northern B.C. and co-director of the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health at the University of British Columbia.

"There is a pool of incredible dynamism and passion within the aboriginal community of young people … [who] are breaking new ground. … The trend is to be strong in the 'modern' world skills and knowledge while deeply rooted in the 'traditional' world with its incredible beliefs, teachings and practices." —Ed John, Grand Chief of the Tl'azt'en Nation

When Dr. Caron looks around her professional circles, she does not see a lot of aboriginal doctors, nurses or dentists. But she is looking forward to the day when that is no longer the case, and she regards UBC's Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health as the best way to accomplish that goal.

Dr. Caron says the centre, which is just one year old this January, is "the biggest thing on my agenda," now and for the immediate future. The centre has three pillars: mentoring students, curriculum development and indigenous health research.

The goal of the centre is to train health-care workers for native communities and promote a greater understanding of the needs and challenges of native health.

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One program that was developed elsewhere at UBC but is now part of the centre's responsibility encourages First Nations high school students to enter the health faculties. Each summer, about 20 native students are brought in.

"They stay in the dorms, they eat on campus, they meet faculty and rotate around. There are in a lab, a dentistry simulation centre, all these areas to get a little glimpse of all these different health areas out there that are theirs to choose if they can just stay in school and believe in themselves," Dr. Caron said.

She said her hope is that all health faculties at UBC can recruit aboriginal students to create more native doctors, nurses, dentists and physiotherapists.

"I think we can do it. The faculty of medicine at UBC has been working on that for the past 10 years and showed tremendous success. But I think now our job at the centre is to really facilitate that capacity-building across all the health disciplines," Dr. Caron said.

She said she wants UBC to be the place in Canada that aboriginal students aspire to attend because it is a place "where your heritage is going to be celebrated, and you are going to be in a safe environment, where people understand and respect the indigenous history of Canada and want to embrace you being there."

Dr. Caron, who often goes into native communities to talk about the importance of staying in school, said she tells students to find something they believe in and then to pursue it.

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"If there's an inner need to find a solution, even if no one wants to hear you, I think that carries you through some of the challenging days when the course is very hard, the program is very demanding and there's all these glitches in the research," she said. "If you are doing it for the right reason and you keep your passion, everything else follows."

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