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MPH students thrust to the forefront of Indigenous health issues
By Allen Tung
SFU’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program trains students to protect community health.
During their first year, each student participates in an 11-week practicum where they take their lessons and apply them to public health settings across Canada and globally.
This year, students were thrust to the forefront of myriad Indigenous and migrant health issues worldwide. They will showcase posters summarizing their learning experiences at the annual MPH Practicum Poster Day at the Burnaby campus on Thursday, Oct. 20, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. at Blusson Hall’s Djavad Mowafaghian Atrium.
The students worked on projects that included suicide prevention in Aboriginal communities, culturally safe approaches to diabetes and obesity prevention and management, and resolving barriers to learning for indigenous youth who live on reserves.
The program trains students in identifying, evaluating and monitoring disease and illness patterns, and implementing programs and services to prevent disease and promote healthy environments and healthy living. It is the first anglophone program in Canada to be accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health.
During a practicum with the Fraser Health Authority, student Isla Redhead practiced the new skills she learned in the classroom, identifying gaps in services related to mental health and suicide prevention among the Aboriginal population.
SFU News caught up with her in advance of poster day:
Q What did you do during your practicum?
A The main task was to compile a report outlining the gaps in how Fraser Health is addressing Aboriginal youths’ suicide and mental health issues. In order to write the report, I conducted an environmental scan of suicide prevention and mental health services in the region. This included traveling to various communities in the region and attending community events.
Q What surprised you when you conducted the environmental scan?
A Something that surprised me was the lack of mental health and suicide prevention services available for Aboriginal youth living in urban areas. Going into my practicum I was already well aware that mental health and suicide prevention is an area of healthcare that is severely neglected, but I thought there might be more services available in urban areas than there were.
Q What is being done really well?
A There is beginning to be more awareness that lack of services is a problem. The same problems have existed for a long time, but now more people are aware of them and are trying to change things. I think there is still a long way to go, but it seems like we might be getting closer to being on the right path.
Q What is your top recommendation?
A My biggest recommendation would be to put more effort into addressing mental health and suicide prevention among the urban Aboriginal youth population. This population is growing very fast and has different needs from other populations. I think it would be better to address issues as they become known rather than to wait until they become even more serious.
Q How critical is it to improve Aboriginal health outcomes?
A I think it is extremely critical. Canada is a prosperous country that is full of opportunities—yet statistically, Aboriginal people have health outcomes similar to those in developing countries. It’s 2016, there is no excuse for this. Major changes are needed to improve Aboriginal health in Canada and British Columbia.
Q What drew you to Aboriginal public health research?
A I have always thought the health disparities between the Aboriginal population and the rest of the population of Canada are unacceptable, and that major changes are needed in this area. I want to cause these changes to happen one day. Also, as a Métis person, I feel like I have a special connection to the issue and a perspective that may be different from others working in public health.
To learn more about Redhead’s practicum and others, visit poster day on Oct. 20.