Indigenous Students Gain Experience at St. Boniface Hospital

29 April, 2024 | St. Boniface Hospital

A new program at St. Boniface Hospital is introducing Indigenous high school students to the careers available to them in health care after graduation. The Indigenous Student Work Experience Program (ISWEP) is partnership between the Winnipeg School Division and St. Boniface Hospital, managed with the experience and leadership of Clayton Sandy and Joseph Thompson, two hospital board members, and Ryan Thomas, Truth and Reconciliation Specialist.

The goal of the program is two-fold. “This is an internship-style program where students job shadow clinical areas, as well as other roles in the hospital,” explains Thomas. “There is also a hands-on component. Really, this is about planting a seed with these students and showing them what’s possible here at St. Boniface Hospital. Also, historically, there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for Indigenous students to gain this exposure. There’s an underrepresentation of Indigenous staff and this is one way to try to change that.”

Thomas understands that this is a long-term plan; students will have to graduate high school and sometimes university or specialized training before choosing where they would like to work, but he’s optimistic it will make a difference. “This is a start for us, but I’m hoping that maybe other hospitals or businesses might do something like this as well in the future,” he shares. “We’re trying to enhance our reputation as a hospital but also as a community member. I’ve shared my personal and career story with the students, as have Clayton and Joe. For them, hearing about the work we do creates a whole new idea of what a hospital is. I really enjoyed watching that happen.”

The eight students who come from different schools in their division have become friends as they’ve explored opportunities at the hospital. “They were so quiet in the first week, but now they’re really engaged,” Thomas continues. “We’ve been intentional about trying to be encouraging and helping them come out of their shell. We’re also looking at a lot of life skills. Taking the bus, finding parking, navigating the hospital campus, we’re helping them find their footing in the world.”

Clayton Sandy (standing) with two students at St. Boniface Hospital.

So far, the students have spent time in clinical areas such as labour and delivery, diagnostic imaging, and social work, as well as support areas such as electrical departments and property management. “We dissected pig hearts in the Youth BioLab, and some were very interested, while others were happy to just observe,” says Thomas with a laugh. “But I just had a student tell me that they had no idea what really went on in a pharmacy and after spending an afternoon there, he thought it was really cool and maybe something to consider as a career. It’s about helping them find what they like and what they don’t like.”

Thomas is grateful for the teamwork that has ensured this program is successful. “Joe and Clayton have done so much in their careers and having them share best practices for creating this program has been crucial,” he says. “The hospital staff who welcome the students are amazing; there are so many natural teachers here. The school division has been wonderful, as well. And most of all, the students are working hard. They have to be able to keep up with their schoolwork while missing a day a week during the program to spend it at the hospital. We’re hoping this is only a beginning for ISWEP at St. Boniface Hospital.”