Attending medical school is often about obtaining a medical degree and becoming a physician. But for PEI family physician Dr. Meghan Cameron, it was also about delving into her culture, learning more about her heritage, and striving to reconcile Western and Indigenous medicine.
“Medical school was an enlightening experience,” Meghan said. “I attended NOSM (Northern Ontario School of Medicine), and its mandate is to be socially accountable to the communities it serves, which includes many Indigenous communities. Because of that, I was able to reconnect with my Indigenous culture, and it really opened my eyes to who I am, who I want to be, and how I want to inspire others.”
Dr. Meghan Cameron (nee: Beals) is a Mi’kmaw whose family is from Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia. She did not grow up on a Reserve or know much about her culture in her early years because her mother was part of the Sixties Scoop— the mass removal of Aboriginal children from their families into residential schools or the child welfare system. This was done, in most cases, without the consent of their families or communities.
“My mother grew up in foster care,” Meghan said. “She was able to visit her mother and Indigenous family off Reserve, but she never got to live with them full-time. I think we’ve always felt a disconnect from our culture as a result. It’s, unfortunately, a common story because of residential schools and what happened to families during the Sixties Scoop. Thankfully, maturity, and my experiences at medical school, made me realize how important it is to learn more about my culture.”
During her medical school training, Meghan spent time in a First Nations community in Ontario learning about social determinants of health and culture, as well as observing and partaking in Indigenous medicine, including smudging and sweat lodges.
“There are a lot of healing practices in the Indigenous culture, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing Elders take people through a healing path,” Meghan said. “To be able to really help my patients, I need to have knowledge of these practices and what’s available to my patients so I can help them combine that with Western medicine. It also helps build trust.”
Meghan’s experience has served her well so far. She now works as a family physician in Crapaud and Lennox Island, where she’s able to use her knowledge to better connect with and treat her patients.
The Lennox Island Health Clinic where Meghan spends part of her time utilizes a team-based approach with a broad range of health care and community care professionals, including specialty and family physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and a psychologist, as well as a psychiatrist and other allied health professionals. The team has strong ties in the community, with everyone united on the goal of ensuring families have the resources they need and that services are kept on Lennox Island.
Meghan says it’s the ideal scenario where health care is about the whole person and the patient gets care in every aspect of their life. It’s not easy, and Meghan admits that delivering health care in an Indigenous community is not without its challenges.
“There is a lot of intergenerational trauma because of colonization,” Meghan said. “There’s mistrust of Western medicine and Western practices because of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop. It’s a lot to overcome to gain trust and it’s also difficult to help people navigate that trauma when I haven’t been through it firsthand. There’s been some progress towards reconciliation, but we have a long way to go.”
There is a movement in Canada to allow smudging and other Indigenous health practices within hospital settings when requested by patients. While that is progress, Meghan cautions that any potential policy changes must be made with Indigenous people at the forefront.
“We must have Indigenous people at the table. Changes cannot be imposed on these communities. There are many moving parts and things to understand, especially with the history of everything that’s happened. It’s a lot to unpack, but that’s why it must be Indigenous people who are involved in discussions and decisions — those who have a better understanding of the culture as well as the intergenerational trauma. That’s the only way to move forward.”
Dr. Cameron believes she is the only Indigenous physician on PEI working with an Indigenous community. And, she says, there’s only a handful of Indigenous physicians working in Atlantic Canada, which is something she’d like to see change.
“It’s important to me to be working in an Indigenous community not only because I want to learn more about my own culture, but because I want to serve as a role model for Indigenous youth,” she said. “There are so many success stories coming from Indigenous communities and I want to continue to encourage more Indigenous youth to go into medicine or health care professions.”
When it comes to her goal of reconciling Western and Indigenous medicine, Meghan said there are things her colleagues could consider that would help, such as learning more about Indigenous medicine and culture, as well as the tragedies caused by colonization and residential schools.
“As doctors, we have the privilege of getting to know our patients very well and that often includes what they’ve been through or what they might still be struggling with,” Meghan said. “Sometimes it means spending more time with our patients. Listening, educating ourselves, and not dismissing a person’s culture when we’re providing care is critical to being a good physician.”
Dr. Meghan Cameron lives on PEI with her husband, Billy Cameron, and their dog, Cooper. Meghan’s favourite parts about the Island are the beach, the food, Victoria-by-the-Sea, and the feeling of being surrounded by water, especially when on Lennox Island. Her husband is a potato farmer and together they love beach walks with Cooper and spending time with family and friends.