Reflections of the future

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, Summer 2011

Arlene Wilgosh

Opportunities have such a powerful way of shaping our lives.

I often think about the opportunity I had during my high school days working as a candy striper at the local hospital in Minnedosa. Twice a week, I'd pull on my pink-and-white striped uniform, lace up my white runners, and visit the patients. I loved being a part of that environment. It had a huge impact on my life. The purpose of the work and the people I encountered ignited the desire in me to become a nurse.

It's because of that job as a candy striper back in my teenage years that I decided to pursue a career in nursing after graduation. That opportunity set the foundation for my future and still resonates with me today.

I recently pulled out my original candy striper pin during a visit with a group of Grade 9 students at the Pan Am Clinic. They were taking part in an orientation for the Medical Careers Exploration Program (MCEP), a one-of-a-kind program that grew from a partnership between the Winnipeg Health Region and the Winnipeg School Division.

On this particular day, students from Winnipeg's inner-city schools - some with tattoos, multiple piercings and even spiked blue hair - were trying out an array of diagnostic, rehabilitation and simulation equipment that was on hand. While making their rounds through the various stations, the 38 teens from Children of the Earth, General Wolf, Hugh John MacDonald and Sir Isaac Newton high schools quietly considered a possible future of their own in health care, and whether or not they'd be one of the 12 students selected for this unique internship program.

Over the course of three years in high school, each participant must complete nearly 200 hours of classroom and hands-on education specifically created for this program. During various internships at Pan Am Clinic and Health Sciences Centre, students are given the opportunity to learn directly from surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists, technologists, pharmacists and other health-care professionals.

The students you see on the cover of this issue of Wave - Mercedes Henrikson, Lorelei Everett, Brandan Campbell and Dakota Campbell - are the very first group of graduates of the Medical Careers Exploration Program. They were part of the inaugural class in 2007 and successfully completed the three-year program this past June.

They are a reflection of the future of health care in this province. They symbolize hope for more health-care workers in the Region and for more opportunities for Aboriginal youth. And these opportunities are important.

Right now, less than three per cent of the workforce in the Winnipeg Health Region (2.8 per cent) is Aboriginal, yet it is estimated that Aboriginal people make up about 13.6 per cent of the province's population and 8.6 per cent of the population living in Winnipeg.

Clearly, we need to better align these numbers, and the MCEP is one way we are trying to do just that. Through the MCEP and other programs, we are working to create a more diverse workforce, one that better represents the makeup of our community. And that, in turn, will support our efforts to make health-care services more accessible and available to all members of our community.

Of course, MCEP didn't just happen by accident. In fact, it is a wonderful example of the good things that can be achieved through community partnerships.

In this case, the Region's Dr. Wayne Hildahl, who is the founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Pan Am Clinic, partnered with Lorne Belmore, Principal of Children of the Earth School. Together they worked with other people in the Region and the Winnipeg School Division to create this unique program.

As you will read in the story that begins on page 20 of this issue, the curriculum for MCEP was specifically designed to prepare students for a future in medicine, with a focus on the skills needed to do well in postsecondary education.

But no matter what career they choose, the students enrolled in the program come out of it with a solid education. They have a higher level of academic skills, critical thinking and confidence. As Rina Whitford, a teacher at Children of the Earth, points out, "Even if they don't go into a health-care career, they are still very well-educated and can go on to university or college."

While the five graduates from the inaugural class are already on a path to a brighter future, there are many others waiting in the wings and poised for success, thanks to this innovative program.

It was a real pleasure meeting some of the potential future graduates during that recent visit to Pan Am Clinic. And it gives me a sense of pride to be part of an organization that is involved in such a worthwhile program that was created right here in Winnipeg. I can't wait to see what the future holds for these bright new students, thanks to a truly amazing opportunity.

Wave: Summer 2011

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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