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Camp organizers seek to boost youth interest in health careers

A CSI-style forensic investigation and the opportunity to learn from Canada's first Inuk heart surgeon Donna May Kimmaliardjuk are just two of the highlights on offer for a group of students from across the territory at a health career camp this week.

Talia Armstrong of Iqaluit, Henry Angutingunirk, back, and David Riley Krejunark of Kugaaruk investigate a footprint and a fingerprint at a mock crime scene at the Nunavut Health Career Camp held in Iqaluit May 6 to 10.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

The camp, which is taking place at Nunavut Arctic College's new campus building in the capital May 6 to 10, is bringing together 20 students from Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, Baker Lake, Naujaat, Clyde River and Iqaluit.

"The intention of this is to focus on health careers so they can understand, 'What are the options out there for me?' and 'When I get back to my community, how can I plan my courses? How do I do course selection?'" explained Michelle Turpin, the consultant with NVision Insight Group handling the logistics.

Turpin, previously a long-time Nunavut teacher, says all Nunavut schools, teachers and community health representatives were invited to apply for the camp. Mentors who applied had to explain why they wanted to participate and how they would support students.

While 24 students applied – with a personal essay on why they wanted to attend the camp, including an example of how they'd helped someone in their community – available federal funding only allowed for 20.

Among them is Shakira Kuodluak, a Grade 10 student at Kugluktuk High School.

"I want to be a nurse, public health nursing," Kuodluak said. "Back home in health class, I was looking into being a nurse, then I got excited about this Nunavut Health Career Camp. I got here and there was a lot more options."

In fact, she was shocked at all the different nursing options. And, only on her second day of the five-day camp, she says she's learned so much. She's also grateful to everyone who made it happen.

"It's a really fun camp. All of us get along, the students. We help each other out," she said.

One activity that left an impression on Kuodluak is a CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) role-play, with new clues introduced each day at the site of a carving theft.

"I was scared at first. I thought it was real. Then I found out we were just playing a game, and I found it really exciting when we were doing the DNA. It was pretty cool," she said.

"It's forensics, there's actually caution tape. There's a couple of suspects. Yesterday they did fibre analysis, DNA analysis," explained Turpin.


'Boot camp for nurses'

Gjoa Haven's Alaira Sallerina, who is in Grade 11, originally had plans to be a doctor or nurse.

"Because where I come from the nurses don't really do anything for our community until the last minute or until it's too late. When I was young, I wanted to make a change to that. I wanted to help my people," said Sallerina.

But her introduction to ultrasounds while pregnant has changed her mind. The images intrigue Sallerina.

"When I got my ultrasound here (a week ago) to get my appendix out, I was like, 'Cool, that's my kidney. Oh, that's my liver,'" she said, adding the camp is like boot camp for nurses.

"We learn about germs, from the basics, and then we kicked it up yesterday. We got to do sutures. We got to brainstorm about careers, about paths that we could take. We're trying to figure out who stole our carving."

Sallerina may have to take on-line science courses as Qiqirtaq Ilihakvik doesn't have a science teacher.

Melanie Kaunak of Naujaat, left, and Jennifer Williams of Iqaluit conduct an experiment to figure out the surface tension of a dime by counting water drops at the Nunavut Health Career Camp held in Iqaluit May 6 to 10.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

The youth were also spending a day at the hospital for hands-on activities, such as casting and putting a needle in a vein – for camp purposes, an egg is used instead of an arm. Mental health workers were also presenting.

Kimmaliardjuk, who was scheduled to arrive Thursday, will help students dissect a seal, then use the heart as a teaching tool.

"We had someone from the Department of Health talking about all the jobs with the department and how the Government of Nunavut supports with different pots of money for scholarships to go to school," said Turpin.

"We're just really, really trying to move the needle a little bit on having Inuit choose careers in the health field. It's a really super-full week of what we hope are lots of different activities so they can really see themselves in these positions."

That was the essence of college president Pauloosie Suvega's message to students when he welcomed them on Monday – that he hoped the students would see themselves in health-sector positions.

This is the health career camp's second year. The Northern Ontario School of Medicine organized the camp last year, while this year the medical school teamed up with Nunavut Arctic College, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corporation, and the Government of Nunavut’s Departments of Education and Health to form a steering committee.

The plan is to repeat the camp.