Dear colleagues,

When Jason Pennington attended the University of Toronto from 1996 to 2000, he was for a time the only identified Indigenous student in the entire medical school. What’s more, in his four years of study, there was only one lecture on Indigenous health in the curriculum.

It’s no secret that Indigenous health is an area of intense focus among policy-makers, the health care community and the public at large. There are known disparities in Indigenous welfare, access to care and quality of care.

Yet, less often discussed is access to education — be it pathways to medical education for Indigenous students or knowledge among health workers of Indigenous health values and principles, factors that can help lead important change.

But Jason is working to do just that with his colleague, Lisa Richardson.

In 2012, they worked with Dr. Mark Hanson (then-associate dean and director of MD admissions at the U of T) to formalize a distinct pathway for Indigenous students to apply for admission to the medical school. Then, in 2014, they took it a step further and cofounded the Office of Indigenous Medical Education in the U of T Faculty of Medicine.

Quick link – “Bonding over bannock” (Dr. Giroux on Lisa and Jason’s impact on his career)

Through this work, and ongoing efforts, they have successfully

  • increased Indigenous student admissions,
  • strengthened curriculum in Indigenous health,
  • assisted with student learning and support by way of hiring an Elder-in-Residence and an Indigenous Program Coordinator, and
  • nurtured a vibrant and resilient cohort of Canadian Indigenous physicians.

Together, Jason and Lisa are the winners of our 2017 Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award. Read their full story »

Dr. Jason Pennington and Lisa Richardson

Dr. Jason Pennington, FRCSC

  • Huron-Wendat surgeon
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
  • Curricular Co-Lead in Indigenous Health Education, Undergraduate Medical Education, University of Toronto

Dr. Lisa Richardson, FRCPC

  • Anishinaabe/European internist
  • Assistant Professor, Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
  • Curricular Co-Lead in Indigenous Health Education, Undergraduate Medical Education, University of Toronto

Impact story: Bonding over bannock
(Dr. Ryan Giroux, a Métis graduate of the U of T’s MD Program)

The Indigenous Student Application Program at the University of Toronto admitted me into medical school, supported me through my medical education and gave me a sense of place and purpose. It gave me the confidence to share who I am with the patients that I see. This is especially important when treating Indigenous patients.

During one of my electives, I met an Indigenous mother and her baby at a women-and-baby resource centre. Usually on Fridays the centre had a cooking class so we could all learn how to make healthy food. Knowing that this mother was First Nations, I suggested that we make bannock, a common Indigenous bread.

It became a healing process for both of us, just to make this bannock together.

While we were making it, I shared with her that I’m Métis and we connected over the fact that both of us had not experienced much of our heritage. In my case, this was because my parents separated when I was young and I lost my connection to my Métis father. In her case, it was because of the welfare system.

(We also bonded over the fact that we both didn’t really know how to make bannock and that we had to use Google to figure out a recipe!)

This ended up being a really positive way to connect with someone in the medical system. This woman would not have seen many Canadian Indigenous physicians and I understood in a unique way where she was coming from.

I credit the U of T’s program with giving me the confidence to share my experiences. Without this program, without the mentorship, support and love of Lisa and Jason, I wouldn’t be in this place. Lisa and Jason really deserve this award. They are amazing people, physicians and leaders, and they really are an asset to the medical community in Canada. Their program has inspired me to continue working for Indigenous Peoples in Canada within the health care system.


Please join me in congratulating Lisa and Jason, and in thanking them for their vital work.

Sincerely,

Andrew Padmos, BA, MD, FRCPC, FACP

Chief Executive Officer