CapU’s Piloted Indigenous Healthcare Assistant Program has a Successful First Year

After a successful year the piloted program already has interest for next year

Annalisse Crosswell, Associate News Editor

The beginning of the 2018-19 academic year at Capilano University came with a new community-centred program. While a Healthcare Assistant Program has existed at CapU for many years, the University has been piloting a program in partnership with the Squamish Nation Eslha7an Learning Centre that is considered a one-time additional offering that caters to Indigenous students. The two-term program, organized by Healthcare Assistant Program Coordinator Nadja Neubauer, alongside Tracey Mitchell, manager, employment and training for the Squamish Nation, and Lisa Paull, post-secondary student advocate for the Squamish Nation, seeks to make post-secondary education more accessible for First Nations students on the North Shore and address the serious issue of underrepresentation in the healthcare field.

Healthcare assistants, also known as care aid or residential care aids, are in high demand for the work they do in long-term care facilities and hospitals. According to Neubauer, “It’s basically a frontline healthcare provider that assists healthcare professionals to provide care, typically assisting nurses.”

Neubauer’s initial idea for the program started with the S’TEṈISTOLW̱ Indigenous Adult Education Conference at Camosun College, where she became more aware of the barriers that First Nations persons still face when entering into post-secondary education. “…I was absolutely blown away by not just how amazing the conference was,” she said, “But also how naive I was about what it’s like to be an Indigenous person in higher education.”

It was Invisible Heroes, a book by Lucy Alderson and a plethora of other authors that discussed their work together in the Carnegie Community Centre in the Downtown Eastside, a satellite campus of CapU, that in turn sparked a conversation between Neubauer and Betsy Alkenbrack, eventually leading to the program’s inception. Originally Neubauer had wanted to focus her efforts on programs for the Downtown Eastside, but she soon changed gears. “…it quickly became apparent to pretty much everyone that the Downtown Eastside is over-studied and over-burdened with people that want to come down and try to start programs,” she said.

Alkenbrack suggested to Neubauer that she start looking to the local community to form a partnership. She approached the Squamish Nation on the North Shore which eventually led to the development of the current program. Though she considers the first year of running the program to be a huge success, it looks very different now compared to the beginning of the year.

Before the certificate program could begin it required funding, which Neubauer, who had never set up a program before, had thought to be more straightforward than she came to realise. The initial conversation surrounding the partnership between CapU’s Health Care Assistant Program and the Squamish Nation’s Eslha7an Learning Centre began in August of 2017, and by May of 2018 funding became available through the Ministry of Advanced Education. With the help of Brad Martin, dean of Education, Health & Human Development and Global & Community Studies, Neubauer successfully applied for funding. The program was then funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education and students’ tuition was funded through the Squamish Nation.

The initial idea behind the program was that the barriers faced by Indigenous students entering into post-secondary would be eliminated by holding theory classes in the Eslha7an and Squamish Nation Trade Centre that was recently opened. Neubauer noted that this environment turned out to be too comfortable for students who were used to coming and going as they pleased, and led to issues with attendance and punctuality as well as engagement. The classes are now held at CapU’s North Shore campus.

Neubauer also said that her determination to have Indigenous nursing instructors caused some issues, the same lack of representation that the program is trying to address made finding instructors incredibly difficult. Faculty that were hired had never taught in a university setting before, which Neubauer noted she would have done differently if she were to do this again. “…I mean I think we’ve all been guinea pigs this first time because we didn’t know how it would go,” she said .

While only two students are set to graduate at the end of the Spring 2019 semester, five more will follow in due course to graduate. Those students will have the ability to work where they like, although several are interested in working with their Nation to provide community healthcare.

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