A rural medical placement like no other
Third-year JCU Medicine student Madeleine Brown shares her adventure in Saskatchewan, Canada, where she travelled for placement as part of the Lynn Kratcha Bursary.
Unlike my travelling companion Macauly "Mac" Taulbutt, my knowledge of English literature is fairly limited and moulded by the great philosophers and authors studied in my Year 12 English class. When reflecting on my month-long rural medical placement throughout Saskatchewan, my favourite philosopher, Alain de Botton, once again pulled through with the goods. In his text Art of Travel, de Botton suggested that “journeys are the midwives of thought”. Indeed, my experiences in Saskatchewan gave birth to new insights into the multitude of factors that contribute to the health status of Canada’s Indigenous people. My journey also challenged my understanding of healthcare in my own country.
Throughout our two weeks in Saskatoon, Mac and I were warmly welcomed by the community of the University of Saskatchewan. Under the guidance of Carlyn, Val and Cal, we were offered insights into the cultural and spiritual beliefs of Canada’s First Nations and Metis People. We also witnessed the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual trauma that continues to influence the inequalities experienced by these people, even to this day.
While it is hard to pinpoint a single highlight of our time in Saskatoon, my thanks go out to Bob Badger and his family at the Kawacatoose Reserve. The Badger family humbly welcomed Mac and me into their home to participate in a traditional Sweatlodge Ceremony and feast — an experience I will never forget. Bob’s willingness to share his knowledge and wisdom is a testament to the resilience of his people, and the strength of culture in overcoming enormous adversity.
“We were offered insights into the cultural and spiritual beliefs of Canada’s First Nations and Metis People… [and] witnessed the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual trauma that continues to influence the inequalities experienced by these people, even to this day.”
JCU Medicine Student Madeleine Brown
Our opportunities to learn were countless in Saskatoon. Some of the most valuable experiences included those at the Student Wellness Initiative Toward Community Health (SWITCH) Clinic and Station 20 West, both of which humanised the social determinants of health. I was humbled by the generosity of all of those who welcomed Mac and me into their workplaces. For me, their attitudes towards their work, and those they are working with was just as inspiring as the actual work itself. This was one of the greatest lessons I took from my Saskatchewan experience: the power of their empathy and humility.
Tackling major health issues
On our incredible journey through Saskatchewan, Mac and I were privileged to experience the diversity of rural medicine in a number of settings, many of which I had never previously experienced.
In Fort Qu’apelle, the All Nations’ Healing Hospital provided an exemplar model of the fusion of western and traditional medicine in the management of renal dialysis — a major health issue for Indigenous communities in both Canada and Australia. The Needle Exchange program delivered out of Access Place in Prince Albert Hospital modelled the role of harm reduction strategies in community health and infectious disease control. The centre itself emphasised the importance of opportunistic care in helping society’s most vulnerable members.
One of the highlights of my Saskatchewan adventure was the 10 days spent in the northern village of Ile-A-La-Crosse. Ice fishing, cross country skiing, sledding, ice hockey, and northern light chasing were highlights. We were also privy to some inspirational rural medicine, driven by the team of doctors at Ile-A-La-Crosse hospital. Here, we saw the medical staff live and breathe their community; a huge investment that bred a deep respect and rapport with those they were serving. Their dedication to ensure the best outcomes for their patients, despite enormous geographical isolation and support, was inspiring.
My journey through Saskatchewan was life-changing. It renewed my perspective of rural medicine. The lessons I learnt and the connections I made are a credit to those who so humbly shared their knowledge, expertise, experiences and homes with both Mac and myself.