ISET Program: Leanne's Story

Posted: New Initiatives:
Oct 12, 2023
  • Issue 17
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Leanne Niziol is from Yellowknife in the Northwest territories. She became aware of NWAC's Indigenous Skills and Employment Training (ISETS) program while studying medicine at the University of Manitoba. Her goal is to complete her medical education (she is currently in her fourth year) and practise in the North, where she wants to give back to her people and community. "My community has always been a part of my journey and being able to give back is what motivates me. It is Dene law to share, give back, and take care of one another. This is our way of being," she says.

Leanne grew up in Pehdzeh Ki First Nation, and like most First Nations communities, her community faces many challenges accessing healthcare services, let alone culturally safe care. She has also never seen any First Nations physicians practising in the North.

"There are significant gaps and barriers in healthcare for our people that negatively impact our well-being and futures. I want to be a part of creating positive change for our people, and giving our communities access to a First Nations physician is the first step. Having shared lived experiences, culture, and identity makes the world of a difference when providing healthcare and building therapeutic relationships. There is a level of trust when you are receiving care from your own people, an understanding and a deep sense of commitment from the providers that allows them to provide care in ways that non-Indigenous providers cannot. Culturally safe care saves lives because people feel seen, heard, and understood, and needs get met," she says.

Leanne's decision to pursue medicine grew out of this recognition that she wanted to do more for her people. "I have worked in health care for nine years and felt that it was time to change direction and increase my scope of practice. Healthcare has always been my passion. I love learning and building relationships with patients; it is very rewarding. I also want to set an example and be a role model for youth. You can do whatever you set your mind to, regardless of where you come from and what you have been through.

Unfortunately, we do face more barriers and inequities on many levels, but with support and the right mindset, it is possible to overcome this," she says.

When writing about the most difficult challenge she faced on this educational journey, Leanne says cites building up the courage to take the risk and step into the unknown. "It can be challenging to do something that nobody else you know has done before you. I was pursuing a career that nobody in my family or community had done before, and there is a level of self-doubt that comes with this." Although Leanne had very limited mentorship and guidance when she began her journey, she says she was able to build her own support system.

Another significant challenge was financial, especially since medical school is a significant financial commitment. On top of the academic challenges, students with racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities face significant barriers to success, she adds.

Through the ISETS program, Leanne received a significant source of support. She also accessed community support through the university's Indigenous service. While in medical school, she started beading and sewing again—Dene crafts that both her mother and late grandmother had practised. "Another Indigenous medical student who is a dear friend of mine is an avid beader and she also inspired me. I have had the privilege of sharing my work with others. I find it therapeutic, and it makes me feel more connected to my culture and people while living away from my community in Treaty 1 territory. Practising our traditional craft has taught me about myself and become a part of my healing journey," she says.

"Through my academic journey, it is important to me to ensure that I always speak our truths, spread awareness, and bring my Dene perspectives into spaces and conversations that we have historically and continue to be excluded from. As a First Nations person, successes and challenges are always shared.