Heather McDonald

Seabird Island Band
Health Policy and Quality Officer
North Vancouver , Canada
First Nations health and healing
Annette Browne

Where and what is your current position?

I help provide the infrastructure for our health services program, which employs 200 people. We are (newly) accredited with exemplary status and provide health services to 11 communities throughout the Fraser Valley. I help with program planning, implementation, and evaluation, including proposal writing for project and research grants. I help provide the research infrastructure and participate in research activities. And I support, educate, and monitor our staff, so that they can provide services that meet the needs of community members.

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.

How does this job relate to your graduate degree?

I use every skill I have ever acquired in my job. During my master's I learned about program planning and evaluation. During my doctoral work I learned about health policy. I also immersed myself in field work in a First Nations community to conduct my research project; I studied and came to understand how historical and social conditions implicate health. I also developed my critical thinking and writing skills.

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 are key things you did 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.

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

I like that I use all my skills. I also like that my work is so varied. I spend a lot of time bringing people together to plan and problem solve, but I also spend time working independently on a project – this is a great combination for me. Working in a First Nations community is very rewarding because the interpersonal relationships are rich and the work is important. I am able to act on my beliefs to positively influence change.