The University of Alberta’s School of Public Health is taking the first steps toward establishing a campus in Yellowknife, saying the era of “fly in and out” academics must end.

The school’s dean, Kue Young, launched a northern strategy in Yellowknife last week. The first steps involve:

  • basing a professor in Yellowknife;
  • appointing five “adjunct professors” from the Northwest Territories to mentor students;
  • increasing opportunities for the school’s students to visit and study in the NWT; and
  • welcoming more northern students into the School of Public Health.

“For a long time the university has been sending people up here to do research, do their thing and then leave, never leaving anything behind,” Dean Young told Cabin Radio.

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“We will never change the pattern until we start training people here to do research.”

‘Two-way communication’

Five students from the NWT will begin classes at the school this fall. Dr Susan Chatwood, scientific director of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research, will become an associate professor for the school based partly in Yellowknife, partly in Edmonton.

The five adjunct professors include names familiar to many in the territory. They are:

  • François Paulette, former Dene National Chief;
  • Denise McDonald, education and health leader;
  • John B Zoe, senior advisor to the Tłı̨chǫ Government;
  • Jim Martin, Tłı̨chǫ educator and policy advisor; and
  • Sharon Firth, Aklavik-born four-time Olympian in cross-country skiing.

“They are not employees of the university but they are honorary appointments,” said Young. “They will be helping out with some of the orientation of our students so they learn something about traditional knowledge and understanding.

“It’s really an opportunity to have two-way communication and encourage students from up here to go down there to obtain a graduate education in public health.”

‘Not worried’ by cost

Initially, Young expects five to 10 students to be able to take advantage of the school’s first step toward a permanent northern campus.

He believes exposing public health students to the realities of northern healthcare will bring both academic and practical benefits.

“There are many differences. There is a tremendous health disparity between northerners and southerners and [it is important to] understand the causes of that, and what can be done about that to reduce the disparity,” he said.

“Also providing healthcare to a widely scattered population over long distances, relying on telecommunication and transportation; relying on nurses as the backbone of the system. Those are unique features of the North.

“We’re training people not just to do research but also to be practitioners and maybe decision-makers.”

The school did not divulge the cost of its investment in the northern strategy.

“We are not really too worried about the cost,” said Young. “If something is very important for us to do, we will do it.

“We really want to alter the perception that academic institutions in the south come up here, fly in and out, do their thing, extract information, and are never to be seen again.

“For us to change that pattern, we have to have highly qualified personnel based locally who can do some of that work. This is a really long-term vision.”