When Jaris Soedrowicz entered pharmacy school in 2006, he realized he was the only Indigenous person in the program—maybe even the entire field.
“I did not see myself represented in the profession anywhere,” he said. “I do not remember seeing an Aboriginal pharmacist—clearly recognizable anyway—going into a pharmacy. There are no other professors of pharmacy.” Not booked host Rosanna Derchild.
“I cannot think of a single textbook or educational material for pharmacy students written by indigenous people.”
At that time, there were no pharmacy-related associations for Aboriginal people in Canada. So last year, a full-fledged pharmacist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto started his own business.
Swidrovich, a member of the Yellow Quill First Nation, is the co-chair of Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada (IPPC). It was created to help connect Aboriginal pharmacy professionals and provide Aboriginal support and information for pharmacy-related healthcare in Canada.
The IPPC currently has around 40 Indigenous pharmacists among its members including Métis community pharmacist Amy Lamb as its CEO and Jesina Bahr, pharmacist and Songhees First Nation member, as its chief operating officer. Supported by the Canadian Pharmacists Association.
In March, the IPPC announced its first scholarships for Indigenous students enrolled in a Doctor of Pharmacy or Pharmacy Technician program in Canada. Shoppers Drug Mart and Johnson & Johnson are among the sponsors that help fund the scholarship.
“We want students and individuals, anyone who is considering pharmacy, regardless of their age, to see themselves reflected in this discipline,” Soedrovic said, who is of Salto and Ukrainian origin.
More Indigenous people are taking their place in Canada’s health care system from the top down to the grassroots. In the process, they hope to navigate and confront a legacy of systemic racism that exists on the field.
said Dr. Alica Lafontaine, outgoing president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the association’s first Aboriginal leader.
Lafontaine is an anesthesiologist in Grand Prairie, Alta. He is from Treaty Territory 4 in southern Saskatchewan, and is of Cree, Anishinaabe, Metis, and Pacific Islander descent.
“Because that’s part of the infrastructure, the fabric of this country that we’re in.”
isolation in the field
Swidrovich spoke to indigenous and alumni pharmacy students for his doctoral dissertation. He said that while they all have unique stories, “one of the biggest themes” that bound them all together was isolation and a lack of community.
“Wherever we were in the pharmacy profession across the country, we were always the only ones,” he said.
“Almost every participant in my study had the first time they spoke to another Indigenous pharmacist during the study.”
Sometimes, he said, an Indigenous student might not feel comfortable revealing their background, especially if they were white enough not to ask anyone else about it.
“I didn’t want it to go viral as a student, because it advocates racism sometimes [for example]“Oh, well, we have points for equity education in college. That’s probably how I got in,” he said of his own experience.
La Fontaine knows all too well how a network that connects indigenous people in the field can be a critical advantage.
He credits many Aboriginal teachers, experts, and mentors with helping him during his career preceding his position in CMA leadership; Without them, he said he might have considered quitting along the way.
“It’s almost like giving permission to the other people you talk to, to realize that there is something special about what you can achieve with the support of all the people in your life,” he said.
Pharmacy and drug decolonization
Much of the IPPC’s work, Soedrowicz says, involves advocating for broader recognition of Indigenous medicine, which may have been around for thousands of years but is often dismissed by Western experts.
And he said, “The thing I’ve looked at most frequently is what’s the evidence for, well, first consider the evidence. And then once it’s considered evidence, any of that evidence gets put into something like clinical practice guidelines,” he said.
Crucially, this recognition decides whether or not a particular treatment is paid for by Medicare coverage.
“We see coverage of things like dentistry, prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and even things like massage and acupuncture. But I haven’t seen any. [public or private] Insurance plans … that will cover an offer to go to a sweat lodge or to pay seniors to come to your house,” he said.
Sometimes, pharmacists can mix traditional and Aboriginal practices—like the smearing practice for your medications, Soedrowicz said.
“You may want to open all of your prescription drug bottles or medication packaging that has a blister on it, for example, and smear it and…pray for your health and wellness, and that these drugs and medications don’t have harmful interactions with other substances like food or medications.” the other.”
He noted All Nations’ Healing Hospital at Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask, for providing traditional Aboriginal and Western prescriptions, as well as other healthcare services.
But he also noted that other clinics, while not offering Aboriginal specific services, are Aboriginal owned or have staff with “a very excellent understanding of the Aboriginal community” they serve.
The progress of the IPPC is only part of the incremental changes that Indigenous peoples are seeing and making in the healthcare system. But LaFontaine says the change he was a part of doesn’t mean “mission accomplished,” even as he nears the end of his term as CMA chief.
“Things are changing, maybe not fast enough for people who can’t get care. Not fast enough for people who have been hurt or still suffer from racism. But change is moving forward. I know.”