For the month of August, we interviewed Dr. Rebekah Eatmon, a PGY-1 in Family Medicine. Earlier this year, Dr. Eatmon wrote an article titled “UBC program graduates Indigenous MDs to bridge health gap“, in which she writes of her childhood goal of being a doctor, struggling to accept her Indigenous background due to lack of role models, systemic difficulties Indigenous people still face when trying to access health care, and her decision to work on bridging this gap by working at Indigenous-focused clinics in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. For our Resident Spotlight, we decided to follow-up on the article—so we highly recommend you read it!
In your article, you write of your goal of working to bridge the gap between health care and Indigenous communities. As you near the end of your first year in Family Medicine residency, can you talk about how your experience in residency, with this goal in mind, thus far has been?
Our program is phenomenal. I am in the Indigenous Family Medicine program. We are a small distributed program. We gather a few times per year, and always have a First Nations elder present, we try and do a community visit, and the majority of our preceptors engage their local Indigenous populations. This affords us the ability to learn from fantastic role models. One of the highlights has been a Northern Trip with Dr. John Pawlovich who works with the Carrier Sekani tribes on rural First Nations reserves. He has made tremendous inroads engaging communities and providing excellent medical care where care was previously very limited. That’s the positive. I’ve also heard of tremendous needs. A lot of communities are still grossly underserved, and only infrequently have a physician visit.
What more do you think should and could be done to further bridge the gaps—both in graduating Indigenous doctors (as the UBC’s Indigenous MD Admission Program does), and delivering health care?
Much more upstream work needs to be done. I’m not convinced that simply graduating Indigenous doctors is enough. I can only dream of a day when a child growing up in a First Nations community has the same chance of becoming a physician as a child growing up in the Greater Vancouver area. I’m not sure that we are there yet. The longstanding systematic discrimination towards Indigenous populations is evident today. Some of my mentors were the first physicians their communities EVER graduated. I’d like to acknowledge the incredible work that UBC has done, but at the same time acknowledge that overcoming history in a few short years just isn’t possible and we’re only starting to scratch the surface. The onus is also on communities and the Ministry of Education to continue working on education quality on reserves, as well as UBC looking at recruitment much earlier in the education process.
Your primary focus in rotations has been at three Indigenous-focused clinics in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In the article, you describe the experience as “it has been a whirlwind, but it has only just begun”. It has been two months now since the article, and how would you describe your experience now? What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced, and what have been some of the successes—personal and/or professional?
I think the transition from medical school to residency is challenging for everyone. The best piece of advice I received was to try and think of the first phase of residency as medical school with a bit of extra, because no one expected me to be drastically different. That took the pressure off a bit and helped me to enjoy the learning processes.
Personally, I have a busy family life so balancing residency and children is always challenging. I spend a lot of weekends on the soccer field and doing laundry. We still sit down together for dinner most nights, though with a family calendar so we can all know each other’s schedules for the next day haha.
I feel fortunate in that my co-residents are excellent people. We are supportive of each other, and try and lift each other up on hard days. An important part of our wellness is doing weightlifting together once per week in a gym in Chinatown. The results are two-fold; we make excellent deadlifting gains, and also hold a sort of modified Ice Cream rounds.
Lastly, you will be continuing to your PGY-2 in Family Medicine soon in the Fall. What are some of plans for your second year in Family Medicine, as well as beyond graduating residency?
At the moment I still have fairly broad interests, and am focused on becoming an excellent family physician by learning on each rotation. I see myself working as a full service GP, and plan to work on First Nations reserves. There are some different models of care I’m looking at, but I think the overall goal of allowing communities to access care within their home communities is important.
I’ll also be busy doing some administrative work as well. I am our site co-chief and sit on the Family Medicine Post Graduate Education Committee. I will also be a facilitator in the UBC 23 24 Indigenous Cultural Safety curriculum, which is something I enjoyed doing last year. I’m also helping to coordinate a small portion of the UBC Medical school Indigenous curriculum.
I’m so happy I chose medicine for a career, as I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I hope to complete a Master’s in Public Health down the road, as I hope to expand my administrative work in the next 1-2 decades.