Heather McDonald

Seabird Island Band
Health Director
North Vancouver , Canada
Agassiz, Canada
First Nations health and healing
Annette Browne

What are your main responsibilities or activities in your current position?

I am the Health lead for an active First Nations community. We provide a regional health service to other First Nations communities in the East Fraser Salish and Canyon, including primary care, midwifery/maternal child health, mental health, and residential recovery and family homes. I work closely with Fraser Health, Ministry of Child and Family Development and First Nations Health Authority to plan and implement innovative health services for Indigenous peoples.

How does your current work relate to your graduate degree?

During my graduate work I learned about health and health systems in Canada, including First Nations health and the need for social justice to restore health and wellness in Indigenous peoples in Canada. First Nations Health Authority was just a dream when I began my PhD. The knowledge I gained, about health services and social suffering, combined with ten years of community-based work, have positioned me well to lead this exciting Health organization.

What do you like and what do you find challenging about your current position?

I work in an environment where the need to work together is prioritized. People are passionate and committed to the work and we support each other. We laugh and cry together. People are seen as members of families, and we are all encouraged to meet our needs in this area. The work is complex and the barriers to success are many. I solve problems through authentic relationships with others. I lead from behind our talented team, who connect with others to create wellness in individuals and communities.

Is your current career path as you originally intended?

Yes and no. Some parts of what I do are consistent with my original ideas. Other parts have been welcome new additions.

What motivated you to pursue graduate work at UBC?

I did my undergraduate degree at UBC (Grad 1987) and had a good experience. I had already traveled for my master's degree and wanted to stay close to home.

What did you enjoy the most about your time as a graduate student at UBC?

Working with the other doctoral students and professors and conducting my research project.

What key things did you do, or what attitudes or approaches did you have, that contributed to your success?

Persevere and trust that things will work out as they will. Stay positive and work hard.

What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their future careers?

Keep yourself wide open to options that present themselves. If you don't get the job you think you want, look elsewhere; there is likely a better option around the corner.

Did you have any breaks in your education?

Yes, I've had lots of breaks. Nursing is a practice profession and so there is value on spending time in practice. I worked in hospitals for two years after my undergraduate. I worked in advanced nursing practice for more than ten years in acute and rehabilitation hospitals before I went back for my doctoral work.

What challenges did you face in your graduate degree, or in launching your career?

Not all experiences in life are positive. This is true for graduate school. However, there is always a lesson to learn in negative experiences. From our work dealing with adversity, we grow stronger. If I would have remembered this I might have been able to roll a little more comfortably during the rougher patches.


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