In a waterfront classroom across the bay from Ucluelet in Hitacu territory, a young group of First Nations students gather daily to learn the foundations of community healthcare.
The students are enrolled in a 10-month healthcare assistant program, delivered by Discovery Community College and co-funded by Nuu-chah-nulth Employment and Training Program (NETP) and Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) Nursing.
The college level certificate program was brought to the Coast by NETP with the intention of having graduates work in their communities and, perhaps, further their education towards nursing.
Out of the 40 or so applications NETP received, they were able to offer fully funded placements to 11 individuals. Corinne Moore and Evan Hauser, NETP case workers and program administrators, said their goal when they introduced the educational initiative was to attract youth living on reserves who were passionate about working with their community members.
“We’re pretty lucky to have the flexibility to look at what the labour market needs and then devise a program for that,” Hauser told the Westerly News.
“There is a growing demand for healthcare aids in First Nations communities throughout B.C. and Canada as a whole, as our population is aging and there is not enough certified people to work with this growing vulnerable population.”
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations Alannah Curly, who resides on the Ty-histanis reserve adjacent to Long Beach, said she applied for the program because she wanted to give back.
“I really wanted to help elders. I saw how high the demand was especially in our isolated communities and I really don’t want them going to long-term care facilities if possible, if we could help them improve their quality of life at home,” she said.
Coursework for the healthcare assistant program started at the beginning of March and, over the next 38-weeks, students will learn how to help a range of patients including: the elderly, injured or disabled persons, and chronically ill people.
There is also a cultural component to the program, which makes it particularly unique for First Nations communities.
“It’s really important because our elders, they are the ones that are keeping the culture and traditions alive. If we don’t learn them and incorporate them into our career then they might not be as willing to work with us,” Curly said. “They would expect that. It’s important to bring our teachings and our culture and approaching it in a holistic way.”
As graduates of the healthcare assistant program, the students will be qualified to work alongside nurses and in a healthcare setting. Moore said that many of the students expressed an interest in pursuing a higher level of academia afterwards.
“Some of them said on the first day that they would like to be a doctor. We would like to support that,” she said.
“They’re a really dynamic group. We’re really excited to see what’s going to come of them. I said on the first day to them, I said there is the potential that everyone in the room could become a doctor or lawyer or CEO or whatever they choose to set the goal for themselves that they will be able to achieve that.”
Curly’s mom works as a nurse for NTC and she expressed a keen interest in following her mother’s footsteps.
“I would like to get my LPN or maybe RN after this. We’ll see how it goes,” Curly said.
For the time being, Curly, like the majority of her classmates, is focused on successfully completing 600-hours of training and building her career close to home.
“I really would like to work in the community,” she said. “I live there and I’ve known them my whole life, so I figured they teach us so I want to give back.”