The journey of Aboriginal healthcare workers

Carrie Lynn Heilbron
Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
July, 2005


The purpose of this study was to examine the journey of Aboriginal healthcare workers in Canada trained at mainstream universities or colleges and who now work with the Aboriginal community. The focus was on understanding how negotiating life, education, and work experiences influence the personal and professional identity of Aboriginal Healthcare workers. In-depth interviews were conducted with five Aboriginal healthcare workers who ranged in age from their mid- thirties to late fifties. Two men and three women participated. Qualitative analyses revealed different power structures prevalent in their life, work, and education experiences. Ten themes within these broad domains were found. Five education themes emerged. 'Residential school as a vehicle for limiting choice' pointed to the narrowing of future career choices and educational aspirations. 'The educational system as culturally silencing' and 'the educational system as politically silencing' depicted different ways educational settings exclude Aboriginal cultural perspectives and marginalize Aboriginal students. 'The shaping of Aboriginal identity in the educational system' represented different ways the bparticipants negotiated identity conflict and confusion. 'Influential relationships and the impact on educational experiences' emerged from discussion about different supportive relationships during educational programs. Five healthcare themes emerged. 'Helping values in healthcare' emphasized the values of respect and trust in client relationships. 'Service delivery within Aboriginal communities' emphasized the need for contextualizing client issues in complex environments. 'Aboriginal community relations and the Aboriginal healthcare worker' considered the unique relationship between Aboriginal healthcare workers and the Aboriginal community. A further healthcare theme, 'Economic disparities in healthcare and the negative affect on Aboriginal clients' revealed specific gaps due to economic circumstances. The last theme, 'work integrity as influenced by political awareness, political action and life experiences' represented how Aboriginal political awareness is translated into work practice. The findings highlight the importance of Aboriginal values and culture for Aboriginal healthcare workers. Education and clinical implications are examined with reference to the literature to offer suggestions for improving education and healthcare settings for the Aboriginal community.