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Why Give | Impact stories

Humbled to become a trusted ally

Dr. Katharine Smart, BA’96, MD’01 goes beyond the usual ways of delivering health care to reach more children and better serve Indigenous communities.

December 18, 2020

By traveling to remote communities and getting to know the people involved in the lives of Indigenous children—extended family, teachers, nurses and community leaders—Dr. Smart takes an empathetic approach to help the youngest generation reach their health goals.

“Not coming in as an expert with solutions but rather listening to community priorities hopefully makes you a safer person,” says Dr. Smart, clinical assistant professor in UBC’s department of pediatrics and president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association. “The burden is on us to be a trusted ally. We need to earn their respect.”

This responsibility inspired Dr. Smart to seek opportunities to deepen her knowledge and skillset in Indigenous health. She has completed six of eight courses toward a certificate in Indigenous Public Health offered by the UBC Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health, the only program of its kind in Canada.

“Powerful learning among peers with broad backgrounds in lived and academic experience happens in the courses. I was humbled,” says Dr. Smart. The certificate’s courses equip Indigenous community members, health providers and scholars with the necessary skills to address public health issues in Indigenous communities. Traditional university prerequisites are not required.

“The courses helped me recognize how much harm we’ve done in First Nations communities,” says Dr. Smart. “It made me think about systemic racism and how I, directly and indirectly, contribute to it. There are lots of things I need to unlearn and take into consideration.”

Dr. Smart recently created the Margaret and Dorothy Memorial Bursary in Indigenous Public Health at UBC to support two students to participate in the Indigenous Public Health Institutes this year. She named the bursary after her grandmothers to recognize the importance of the matriarchy and the influence of grandmothers in Indigenous communities.

“Many people are excluded from education. I want to encourage people to the table—they deserve to be there,” says Dr. Smart. “I never questioned my education and the ongoing training opportunities available to me. I’ve taken for granted my privilege.”

When Dr. Smart thinks back to why she decided to become a doctor, she remembers it was because she wanted to help children.

“It’s humbling how we can go wrong. How we mean to do good, but we do harm. We all need to own this and do something to make change.”