VPSA-funded project supports physicians in learning about Indigenous cultural safety

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A chance encounter with an Indigenous patient visiting the VGH Emergency Department over 10 years ago set Dr. Kendall Ho on an “epic” journey.

“The patient had been in a car accident, and I recommended X-rays for his neck,” recalled Dr. Ho. “He thanked me, but said he preferred traditional healing. It took me aback because I didn’t know what that meant. But it opened the opportunity for me to try to learn why he made that choice. It made me question my responsibility as a physician. I knew nothing about traditional healing, so as the hospital’s designated person in charge of this patient’s care, I felt incapable to decide if traditional healing was a suitable choice.”

Dr. Ho felt it was important to learn more. He was already working on the inter-Cultural On-line health Network (iCON) initiative and was in touch with Leslie Bonshor who was, at the time, the indigenous senior leader in Fraser Health. He set off to help educate health-care professionals and himself to understand how we can approach and support our Indigenous patients better.

One of his recent undertakings was the Engaging Physicians in Indigenous Cultural (EPIC) Safety project in close partnership with VCH Indigenous Health that was funded in part by VPSA. The project, which ran during the 2021/22 fiscal year aimed to increase the number of Vancouver Acute physicians who took part in each of the VCH Indigenous Health Rounds (IHR). The uptake in participation by VPSA members was encouraging. EPIC engaged an average of 32 physicians in each of the six IHR offered in 2021/22, with the highest in February with 68, up from two in the first 2019/20 IHR round.

Dr. Ho and Lori Quinn, who is the director of Indigenous Patient Experience, Professional Practice and Quality at VCH, attribute the interest to the increased awareness of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the BC government’s passing of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. In Plain Sight, the Ministry of Health’s report on systemic Indigenous-specific racism in our health-care system, acted as a wake-up call to physicians.

“In Plain Sight included many calls to action and I know from when I worked in the Emergency Department that staff wanted to learn and understand more,” said Lori, who was an emergency and intensive care nurse. “The report was compelling and broke open an opportunity for reflection. We became more aware of systemic racism, that Indigenous voices weren’t being heard. There was a desire to unlearn what we had thought of as truth. This was a huge impetus for the EPIC project.”

“Many of our physicians and health professional colleagues realized that even though we may not think we are racist, there is systemic racism and we, working in this system, sometimes display the behaviour of racism,” said Dr. Ho. “With that awareness, the majority of health-care professionals are interested in learning more to ensure all patients get optimal care.”

Through VCH Indigenous Health, the EPIC project was able to access and partner with Elders and Indigenous practitioners as well as engage with the First Nations Health Authority to make the rounds good educational venues. More information on the IHR are available here including opportunities to view videos from past rounds.

VPSA’s support of the initiative aligns with our desire to connect, collaborate, and care.

“Through VPSA we were able to reach the physician population and for members to see that VPSA saw this as important,” said Dr. Ho. “That helped us rally physicians to participate—the connect part. VPSA leadership collaborated on this project to move the initiative forward. And VPSA is interested in ensuring that we change our care approach including supporting the transformation of Indigenous cultural safety and care.”

“There are so many more people now talking about and aware of Indigenous cultural safety and taking a trauma-informed approach to patients,” added Lori. “These conversations are the first step to seeing change. VCH Indigenous Health is getting lots of requests from physicians, which has never happened before.”

VPSA continues to work with the EPIC team to engage more members in this important work and the association expects to make an announcement about this in the coming weeks.

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