Training Cree Nurses

July 03, 2012

Eeyou Istchee needs nurses. At least 100 nurses are required to provide health care in the nine Cree communities, and the demand continues to grow. As a result, four years ago the Cree Health Board, along with the Cree School Board, Cree Human Resources Development, the Chibougamau Centre for Collegial Studies (affiliated with CÉGEP du St-Félicien), launched a nursing program specially designed for Cree students.

The program, based in Chibougamau, took in its first cohort of students in 2008, and as of this June the eleven students who completed the program are proud bearers of Diplomas of Collegial Studies in Nursing. In the coming months they will write their final exams for the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec to acquire their Quebec licenses, and then the new nurses will put in two years working in a hospital, becoming familiar with a wide range of health care challenges.

The Chibougamau program is especially designed to prepare the Cree students for the special professional demands they will face. In addition to course work and training in the Centre’s new state-of-the-art nursing lab, the only one in northern Quebec, the students also learn through experience in the Chibougamau Hospital, where several have worked, and internships with hospitals in the McGill University Health Centre (for instance, members of this spring’s graduating class had interned at the Montreal Jewish Hospital and Saint Mary’s Hospital). At Chibougamau, the nursing students have offered Cree patients medical care in their own language. Indeed, as some Cree communities have no resident physician, nurses often play a broader role, performing many of the tasks that a physician would carry out in larger communities or in a hospital setting. They need to be ready for anything. Small communities pose other challenges as well: everybody knows everyone else, and caring for relatives, friends and acquaintances brings its own set of concerns.

The program is also built to reduce some of the difficulties resulting from displacement from home communities or, in some cases, the challenges of being a full-time student while also caring for a family. One distinction is that this program extends over four years, instead of the regular three-year nursing program. The adapted pace eases demands on students who may also be caring for children, and in the first term they can also fill any gaps in their pre-requisite Secondary 5 courses, including chemistry and physical science. In addition, the program’s counselors and teachers offer support not only with academic issues but also such personal concerns as helping students find apartments, babysitters, and daycares.

The nursing program welcomed its second group of students in 2010, and a third is planned for the near future. And as the nurses graduate and enter into the health care system, they will bring a genuinely Cree approach to health care.

For more information contact:
Carole Tremblay
Pedagogical Advisor
Centre d'études collégiales a Chibougamau
748-3903 ext. 226

PHOTO: Seated, from left: Theresa Bosum; Sylvie Grignon, a nurse at Chibougamau Hospital and nursing teacher at the Centre for Collegiate Studies in Chibougamau; Sonia Bosum. Standing, from left: Sandra Shecapio, Anika Vachon and Joyce Certosini. Source: