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Aboriginal dietitians in high demand. (Careers & Training).

There are currently only about a dozen Aboriginal registered dietitians across Canada, but that is slowly changing, thanks to a number of new initiatives aimed at attracting and supporting Aboriginal students who want a career in nutrition.

Marlene Wyatt is director of professional standards wit Dietitians of Canada, the only national organization of dietitians in Canada. Among its other roles; Dietitians of Canada is the accreditation body for dietetic internship an university programs.

In order to become a registered dietitian, a person has to complete a four-year undergraduate degree in nutrition or dietetics, followed by a 45-week practical training program or internship.

One of the projects Dietitians of Canada has been involved in is a dietetic internship program offered through Whitehorse General Hospital.

Kelly McQuillen is professional practice leader for the Yukon First Nations' dietetic intern ship program.

According to McQuillen, the work to develop the Yukon internship program started in 1994 as a way to help one of the workers at the hospital to complete her requirements to become a registered dietitian. She had completed her degree in nutrition and had moved back to the community, but didn't want to have to leave again to complete her internship.

"So I was the only dietitian working there at the time, and the question was, 'Well, why can t you train her?'"

McQuillen contacted Dietitians of Canada to find out about its standards for internship accreditation, then set out to design an internship program with the support of a number of partners, including the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board, the Council of Yukon First Nations and the First Nations Health Program.

The program was initially offered as a pilot project, and was partnered with St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, a teaching hospital serving a large Aboriginal population.

"They had a lot of programs that could offer services that were linked to issues around First Nations health.

so they were able to provide nutrition services around things like diabetes and AIDS and renal health and cancer, that were large issues, at least within the Yukon population," McQuillen explained.

"It's really been a partnership," McQuillen said of the internship program, "because it came from a need from First Nations that they wanted to be able to train their own in the community"

Funding for the program has come from three major partners--the First Nations Health Program through the Council of Yukon First Nations, the Yukon Hospital Corporation; and the bands, tribal councils or organizations of the individuals, applying for the internship.

"It's worked quite well in that there is support from the individual's community for them, to go, because they're funding that. There's support from the Council of Yukon First Nations because it's a First Nations focus. And there's support from the hospital corporation because it's linking to the communities and also, they're utilizing their staff and resources and commitment there."

Other partners that have joined the project since its inception include London Health Sciences, the project's new affiliation site, and the Yukon government.

"We've graduated now five interns. We have two more that are currently in the program. So seven candidates through the program. The five that have graduated are all working. And actually were working before they had their exams. They are very highly sought after by Aboriginal communities," McQuillen said.

"They've all passed the registration exam by their provincial registration board. So, in terms of the quality of the program, we're seeing a 100 per cent pass rate into their professional associations, and 100 per cent employment rate.

"I think that, certainly, it's built some capacity in the Yukon as well, because two of the grads from the program have stayed in the Yukon to provide nutrition services in the Yukon, which was the original intent of it. That's why two-thirds of the funding is coming from the Yukon for this program, was that we had a gap. We were having a hard time attracting people and of course all of the scarcity of health professionals in northern communities and in Aboriginal communities. The key was to provide qualified nutritional professionals in the Yukon. And from that, we've doubled our numbers, in that we had two, and I think we've got five or six dietitians now, registered dietitians working in the Yukon," she said.

"The program downfall is that there is a tuition of $8,900. Most internships in Canada now are not charging registration. But again, that isn't generally focused on the individual paying that. We support them and work with them to secure funding through their band or through administrative structure. And we've been successful to date," she added.

The Yukon-based internship program offers a number of things not offered by similar programs in the south, including a strong emphasis on traditional medicine, traditional foods, and cultural sensitivity training.

"One of our interns went to Old Crow, which is above the Arctic Circle, for one of her placements. They've gone to fish camp and provided training to youth and stuff like that at fish camp. They've looked at providing traditional meals and cooking traditional meals. They do a huge section around access to food in communities, the cost of food in northern communities. They do stuff around access to wild foods and the food security/safety issues around that . . . So I think they get a focus that isn't in any of the other programs."

In addition to its involvement with the Yukon internship program, Dietitians of Canada has also been working on developing another internship program to be offered in the north.

"It's going to be an internship program in northern communities, with a First Nations focus, so that again students would get exposure to, depending on where it is, obviously, First Nations or Inuit health. For the first part it's going to be First Nations, because it's going to be in the sort of near north," Wyatt said.

The organization is also working on other initiatives designed to attract and support Aboriginal people wanting to become dietitians, through an Aboriginal net work of member dietitians.

"They're doing some other innovative things to try and get members connected for mentorship of students and that kind of thing," Wyatt said.

One of the people coordinating the Aboriginal network initiatives is Bernadette deGonzague, who is currently working as a community dietitian with the Wikwemikong Health Centre on Manitoulin Island. She and fellow Aboriginal nutritionist Laurie Nicholas, who works as a community nutritionist with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, started the Aboriginal network last year.

"What we would like to do really, ideally, is to try and encourage more Aboriginal students to come into the field," deGonzague said. "I think there's going to be a lot of job opportunities in the future. Just in the field in general, there's over 30 jobs right now in Ontario. But I think as more and more communities undergo health transfers, or start more of their own health care, I think there's going to be a lot more opportunities in the communities for dietitians. Where I work right now, when I first moved to Manitoulin, there was only one dietitian. And now there's four, two of them working with the First Nations communities on Manitoulin. And I know that there have been a number of job opportunities."

If you're interested in finding out more about careers in dietetics, deGonzague suggests you should start by finding out if there's a dietitian in your community, then going out and speaking to them.

Additional information about careers in dietetics or nutrition can be found online, by visiting the Dietitians of Canada Web site at, or the Web site of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment at http://

For more information about the Yukon First Nations dietetic internship program, e-mail kelly McQuillen at, or Laura Salmon with the First Nations Health Program at Whitehorse General Hospital at
COPYRIGHT 2002 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Petten, Cheryl
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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