Exploring health sciences careers in the North

July 31, 2012

Behind every set of healthy teeth there is more than just a solid routine of brushing and flossing. There is scientific research in dentistry. There are innovative ideas in dental equipment. There are doctors discovering connections to other health conditions in the human body. There is public health information being disseminated. There is a dentist at work.

We believe that exposure to all of these angles of health sciences topics – not just dentistry – helps youth truly absorb healthy living practices. You can tell children to brush their teeth, but if you unveil the many layers of science within oral hygiene, they begin to understand the significance of science to their overall health and to their everyday lives. 

Inspiring youth by helping them see things – their environment, the human system, medical equipment – through a scientific lens is what we do. We believe that youth don’t have to be patients to explore the benefits and contributions of health sciences. Actua’s National Health Program helps them discover, through hands-on programming, the science applied and technology used to keep people healthy.

Like our other initiatives, our health program engages youth who are typically underserved and underrepresented. There is no reason youth should not envision themselves as future dentists, nurses, maternity care workers, or community health representatives. All children should be given an opportunity to see themselves as leaders in their communities.

Through a recent partnership with the Nunavut Department of Health and Social Services, we developed a health careers camp specifically for Inuit youth in Nunavut. Many of these campers do not have regular access to health science professionals. This means they not only have limited access to healthy living information, but have limited access to health career mentors.

Mentorship is a vital component of our health program. We know that when youth connect with an individual they trust, knowledge-sharing is far more effective. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research connects our participants with experts in the field. Campers meet researchers who are actively involved in enhancing the health of Canadians.

Jessica Selinger, PhD candidate (Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology at Simon Fraser University), CIHR mentor, and 2011 winner of the L’Oréal – UNESCO for Women in Science Award, is passionate about her research in neurophysiology. Over the past few weeks, Jessica has been mentoring at our health camps in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit, where she has introduced campers to wearable robotics and demonstrated how this technology helps people with movement impairments.

During one activity, she had campers wear an energy harvester, which looks similar to a knee brace, to illustrate how muscle activity produces energy. When the campers flexed their leg, they witnessed how their movement produced enough energy to power a light bulb on an attached circuit which Jessica helped campers design and build in preparation for their activity. “It was fascinating to watch the kids make their own devices. I found that I was learning as much as they were by observing their creative thought processes,” said Jessica. Equipped with their new knowledge, campers and Jessica toured local physical rehabilitation centres to see how other technologies are being used to assist people with limited mobility.

For ten years, Actua and our members have invested heavily in building strong relationships with Northern communities. Our innovative programming is designed to leave a lasting impression on the participants we engage and generate sustained results in the communities we reach. We look forward to the valued engagement of Northern youth in health sciences – whether they become much needed health care professional or contribute to dynamic health research inspired by mentors like Jessica Selinger. In either scenario, the end result will be the development of a dynamic team of Northern health care professionals.

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