Meet the Ojibwa surgeon who won our Indigenous Health Award for 2016

Dear colleagues,

Today is National Aboriginal Day.

“This is a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. The Canadian Constitution recognizes these three groups as Aboriginal peoples, also known as Indigenous Peoples.”  [Source: Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada]

What better day to announce the second winner of our Indigenous health award?

The Royal College Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award is among our newest awards. It was established in 2014 in honour of Dr. Dignan, O.Ont.,BScN, and his tireless advocacy to eradicate disparities in the care of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, as well as their access to equitable medical services.

I first met Tom when I was a first-year medical student at McMaster. He lived next door to a good friend and classmate and I later developed a friendship with him, as well. I greatly valued our conversations, which I later learned had some influence on his decision to pursue a career in medicine. I have followed his accomplishments with great interest over the years. This national award honours physicians who mirror Dr. Dignan’s zeal, devotion and dogged pursuit of justice for Canada’s Indigenous population.

Announcing our 2016 winner: Dr. Nadine Caron, MPH, FRCSC

Dr. Nadine Caron, MPH, FRCSC

  • General and endocrine surgeon
  • Associate professor, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine (Northern Medical Program), University of British Columbia
  • Co-director and co-creator, UBC Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health
  • Associate faculty member, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University

Nadine is Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation. She provides surgical oncology care in Prince George, B.C., and is an associate professor at the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Surgery (Northern Medical Program). After graduating from UBC’s medical school, she completed postgraduate fellowship training in endocrine surgical oncology and earned a master’s degree in public health. Read Dr. Caron’s full biography on our website…

Dr. Caron is a surgeon, teacher and incredible example to her colleagues, the Indigenous community and to Indigenous women, in particular. There were many strong letters of nomination written on behalf of Dr. Caron.

A member of our communications team recently interviewed her and I think these examples from that transcript are worth sharing in full. While her accomplishments speak for themselves, these examples illustrate in her own words her passion for her work.

On her distinction as a graduate from UBC’s School of Medicine

“I’m often asked what it feels like to be the first female First Nations graduate from UBC School of Medicine and that means a lot; I was the first, not because I was special, but because of where we are in society in Canada. I think it’s made a lot of people reflect on the fact that we need to focus on increasing the numbers — not only of First Nations females, First Nations physicians, First Nations surgeons — but also just the representation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s health care professions across the board.”

On what inspires her passion to improve the public health system

“To use an analogy, as a surgeon you’re sometimes the person pulling someone else out of the river who’s drowning, and you might save that person and that’s great, but eventually someone has to go upstream to figure out why everyone’s falling in. So I realized that if I could step out of that clinical spectrum and divide my time into other areas in public health, and in mentoring and teaching, that I could start to understand a bit more about why — why we’re falling in as a society — and start to fill those gaps.”

On her top advice for Indigenous youth

“When I’m asked what advice I would give to an Indigenous youth right now in Canada, there’s much, but…above and beyond any other would be just believe in yourself. Don’t let what other people say sway you from your beliefs, sway you from your dreams, sway you from what you want to do. There are enough people in the world who will tell you that it’s going to be too hard, that you won’t be able to make it. Don’t ever let your voice be one of those who you hear saying that.”

I’m proud that, through our Indigenous Health Advisory Committee, the Royal College is helping to energize the Indigenous health portfolio. One example is the historic meeting we hosted last November to discuss the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action. The Royal College has partnered with others in the Indigenous Health Alliance. Together, we will propel action on the health-related recommendations. Our Indigenous health committee is now discussing objectives and deliverables related to this work. I hope to share more news soon.

Our health system is lucky to have Dr. Caron and others like her who work to break stereotypes, increase awareness and improve systems of care. We are proud to recognize her with this award.


Andrew Padmos, BA, MD, FRCPC, FACP
Chief Executive Officer