Indigenous Career Journey: Dr. Peter Eppinga

Indigenous Career Journey: Dr. Peter Eppinga

By: Dr. Peter Eppinga
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Dr. Peter Eppinga

History

Hello my name is Peter Eppinga and I am from Haida Gwaii. My Haida name is Gut Guulee translated to English means “Golden Eagle”. I have wanted to become a doctor since I was a young child and that vision is now coming true. The journey has been a long one with many obstacles that were in front of me. A wise elder once told me, “It’s not about the prize or title at the end of the journey it is about the lessons learned along the way”. He could not have been more correct.

I spent much of my childhood on my home reservation in Old Masset, Haida Gwaii. This is where I received my “reservation education” that gave me the fundamentals on how to be successful in school. Having a good understanding on math and sharpening your reading skills will bring you a long way. It does take practice but as you keep doing it you will get better. My mother and father always spoke positive words into my life. It was my father who bought me a medical book when I was in grade 3 and my mother always said I was smart because I ate fish! They both said to me that I could become anything I want to in life and to never let anyone’s opinion of me determine what I will become.

My teenage years were not perfect and I fell away from the faith that I was brought up in. I was a delinquent teenager disobeying my parents and the law but the Creator has a way of dealing with the people He loves. If God did not come into my life I would not be where I am now and that is the truth. My faith in Him changed my life and my attitude. I put positive things in my mind and positive things came out in my life. My faith gave me the strength to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Instead of picking up the beer bottle I began picking up textbook after textbook until my biceps started to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger! Haha just kidding, I did discover the brain is like a muscle though the harder you work it and the more you put into it the stronger it becomes.

Education

After completing high school at Hatzic Secondary School I went to the University of the Fraser Valley. At UFV I started out in general studies and found after taking many courses in Kinesiology that I loved it. Kinesiology AKA human kinetics, is the scientific study of human movement. Kinesiology addresses physiological, mechanical, and psychological mechanisms. While taking this degree it was the professors who had a part in changing my life. They encouraged me to go into medical school. A big Hawaa goes out to Allan Arndt and Roger Friesen. I then had to write an 8-hour medical college admissions test, which is not fun, but every Aboriginal person can do well on it. Remember never let anyone’s opinion determine your destiny.  After completing the test I finally applied to medical school.

I gladly accepted an offer from UBC, which has a great medical program with world-class teachers. I am honored to complete my medical degree from them. My medical training at UBC has been a lot of work and, at times, overwhelming but it has given me a solid clinical background. Our training has included rich experiences in emergency medicine, internal medicine, psychiatry, and pediatrics just to name a few. I have also worked in a variety of family practice settings including urban, rural, and First Nations. This has given me the ability to adapt to a variety of environments and styles of medicine.

I am currently taking a Masters Degree in Health Science (which allows you to become a  researcher) at the School of Population and Public Health (UBC). I have been gaining a tremendous amount of knowledge on evidence based medicine, medical biostatistics, clinical epidemiology and public health. I am hoping to use this degree along with my residency training to work in public health and be a leader in medicine. I am looking forward to starting my residency training in July 2013.

Career

My first job was working as an apartment manager/maintenance person for Mission Native Housing. I loved this job because I got to talk to elders and learn from them, as some of them were tenants. I had a lot of fun except when the fire department called me during an organic chemistry exam! (I was taking my degree in Kinesiology when I was working for Native Housing).

My future career in medicine is yet to be determined. A wise doctor told me to choose family medicine because I will be satisfied. He could not have been more correct! I treasure the patient interaction that I get in family medicine. I love the idea of following a patient from birth to death. Life course epidemiology would be at the heart of my practice with preventative care.  Neurosurgery is another passion of mine I am not sure if it is for me, but may be for someone who is reading this right now, as we do not have any Aboriginal Neurosurgeons. I do have to add though with emphasis that we need many more Aboriginal Family Doctors. I fell in love with the brain in the second year of medical school and you couldn’t keep me out of the neuroanatomy lab. I have recently finished a book about the brain. You can find out more about it on my website that will be listed below.  The title of the book is called, Your Brain - Three Pounds of Fat Equals Your Life and Your Destiny.

Growing up on my reserve in Old Masset and working on my Psychiatry rotations, I have seen many things that have brought a negative impact to our youth, suicide being the worst. I have started a "Love My Life" T-shirt campaign that brings about awareness and aids in the prevention of suicide. To learn more about the shirt please visit my website: www.drpetereppinga.com      

Hawaa for your time and stay blessed,
Dr. Peter Eppinga

Posted on February 08, 2013