Left to right: Zoey Bourgeois is a first-year medical student (Photo: Aaron Thomson). Riley Plett is a third-year medical student. (Photo: Submitted)
Left to right: Zoey Bourgeois is a first-year medical student (Photo: Aaron Thomson). Riley Plett is a third-year medical student. (Photo: Submitted)

Medical students honoured with Indigenous Student Achievement Awards

Two medical students from the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine were honoured at the Indigenous Student Achievement Awards Ceremony on March 9.

MD students Zoey Bourgeois and Riley Plett each received a leadership award at the event. The awards ceremony is part of the university’s Indigenous Achievement Week, which celebrates Métis, First Nations and Inuit students, staff, faculty and alumni’s successes and contributions. Both students are advocates for Indigenous representation in the various aspects of medical admissions and education.

Zoey is a first-year Métis medical student. She sits on the college’s Admissions Committee where she’s been actively involved with Indigenizing the recruitment process to the MD program, including participating in panel interviews and Indigenous Conversation Circles, and helping guide future admissions process improvements.

Riley is in the third-year of the MD program and is Saulteaux Métis Anishinaabek with Indigenous and settler ancestry. She is a proud band member of Pine Creek First Nation. Among her achievements, Riley recently filled in as the Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan (SMSS) Indigenous Health Representative and led a Government Affairs and Advocacy Committee SMSS letter-writing campaign.

We asked Zoey and Riley a few questions about their studies and what inspires them as future physicians.

Why did you decide to pursue a career as a physician?

Zoey: I love to connect with people and chat. I wanted to be able do something a little different every day and use problem-solving skills. I took a gap year where I worked as a health and safety specialist at a manufacturing plant, which really solidified that medicine is what I want to do. I loved the process of checking in with workers post-injury and advocating for their needs through their recovery process.

Riley: I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Some of the reasons were obvious at the time and some have become clearer the longer I’ve been in medical school. Initially, I was absolutely smitten with science. I spent many years doing breast cancer research in Dr. Deborah Anderson’s lab and loved this. As I’ve been going through medical school I’ve confirmed what I initially suspected about medicine: that it is an art as well. I’ve always loved reading and writing; I think these are some of the best ways to experience and share stories. Medicine requires the methodical, scientific parts of me as well as the listening and storytelling side.

You each received an award for leadership. Can you talk about one person you think is a good leader and what makes them so?

Zoey: I really look up to Dr. Saqib Shahab as a leader. Being the chief medical health officer during the peak of COVID-19 must have been extremely challenging, but he always showed up with a calm demeanour, an encouraging attitude and a smile. I really respect and look up to him for staying cool under unimaginable pressure, to keep the people of Saskatchewan safe.

Riley: Val Arnault-Pelletier is a fantastic leader. She has been facilitating and driving important work within health care for many years. She does so with humility and warmth. Val makes you feel important, like your voice matters. Someone who inspires confidence the way she does in so many medical leaders that have come through the U of S has a special gifting of leadership.

Riley, you are a passionate advocate for Indigenous health and perspectives, and have participated in the college’s Indigenous Admissions Circle and Indigenous Health Working Group, and are a co-leader in ratifying the college’s first Indigenous Medical Student Association of Saskatchewan. Why is it important for you to be an advocate in these areas?

Riley: Going through medical school during the pandemic was hard enough without getting to know my classmates for the first year or so. I went to an Indigenous doctors conference last year where I met Indigenous medical learners from across the world and from my school. It was life-changing to be a part of an Indigenous gathering with so much beautiful diversity. I felt safe and I felt supported. It is critical that Indigenous applicants, learners, practitioners, and our patients can feel safe and supported. I’m passionate about partnering with my Indigenous peers to create these spaces because we have that beautiful diversity here at the U of S.

Zoey, you sit on the college’s Admissions Committee for the MD program and have been actively involved in Indigenizing the program’s recruitment process. Why is it important for you to be involved with admissions and recruitment at the College of Medicine? 

Zoey: It’s been a really rewarding experience. My journey to medical school was not linear, and I appreciate that I can take my experience to look at prospective applicants through a holistic perspective and better understand their story. Representation is important, and it’s my hope that in the future we can have a larger Indigenous student body and contribute to increasing the number of Indigenous physicians in our province. Being on the other side of the admissions process is fun, and getting to advocate for Indigenous applicants and work as part of a dynamic admissions team has been gratifying.

What advice would you give to a first-year Indigenous student interested in going into med school?

Zoey: You can do it. The process is meant to be hard and at times you will doubt yourself. In my first couple years of undergraduate (studies), I got a couple of concussions playing rugby and my grades tanked. I wrote off the idea of getting into medical school because I didn’t think I could get my grades up to where they needed to be. It took a lot of diligent work to make sure that I had what I needed to apply. I also took the MCAT three times. Do some introspection to figure out why you want it then use that to motivate you to get through the process. It’s hard work but it will be worth it! Also, there is a huge network of support out there, please don’t be afraid to use it.

Riley: The question we’re told to ask ourselves as medical school applicants over and over is, “Am I a good fit?” I suspect you’ve worked extremely hard to come to this point in your journey already and are a good fit. Try to reframe that question now, “Is the program a good fit for me?” You have many gifts. I believe in you.

Read more about the 2023 Indigenous Student Achievement Award honourees.

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