Waterloo Pharmacy student co-op work term eye-opening experience

Blair McCullough (Rx2024) was attracted to the Waterloo School of Pharmacy program because of its innovative co-op program and in particular the opportunity to work with Indigenous Peoples.

Blair’s father is Algonquin First Nations and by accepting a co-op work term at Moose Factory Island, Blair learned more about her Indigenous background and heritage while working with an underserved population.

Everyone deserves affordable, readily accessible healthcare and continuity of care. In the future, I want to work in the North as a pharmacist to help those most in need.

Blair McCullough, Rx2024

Journey to Moose Factory Island

Travelling to Moose Factory was a long trip for Blair, involving many different modes of transportation because no roads are connected to the island from the Ontario highway system. Blair travelled via bus to Cochrane, Ontario, on a train to the mainland of Moosonee, and on a boat to get to the island for a total of two days of travel.

“Experiencing this journey made me realize how difficult it is for the community to receive medical care, food and the things we take for granted in urban areas,” Blair says.

Resources for the Moose Cree First Nation community arrive by drop shipments from helicopters or by train.

Building on Moose Factory Island

Moose Factory Island

Blair stayed in hospital housing where all healthcare staff reside. Blair mentions that while her living conditions were great the same cannot be said for the living conditions for community residents. These conditions contribute to poor health outcomes among residents.

Immersing into the culture

“I always knew I wanted to work in Northern Ontario but I had so many questions,” Blair says. “My father’s stories about his experiences with the Algonquin culture in Mattawa were not as complex but they did give me a sense of familiarity.”

Moose Factory Ministik School

Moose Factory Ministik School

Before deciding to complete her co-op work term at Moose Factory Island, Blair spoke to past students who previously worked there to get a sense of the working conditions.

During her spare time on the island, Blair watched documentaries with other residents and students at the hospital to learn about the community and its history.

“This was an incredible way for me to learn about my roots and the history of my ancestors,” Blair says. “I experienced what it means to be a part of a community and the importance of care.”

Blair also attended a social program and sewing classes twice a week that are led by an Indigenous elder and a community member.

A pair of gloves

A pair of gloves sewn by Blair

“Engaging in sewing classes was the best experience I’ve ever had. It was a great way to talk to the locals and learn about their culture,” Blair says. “I learned words from the Cree language, their favourite recipes, the history of the residential schools and the current school system today in Moose Factory. It was important for me to see how the community is teaching their children to be in contact with their culture.”

Working in the community

“During my time at Moose Factory I worked at the hospital and completed home visits alongside a physician, personal support worker or nurse to help people who are unable to come to the clinic – those with mobility issues, cognitive disabilities and the elderly,” Blair says.

Weeneebayko General Hospital

Weeneebayko General Hospital on Moose Factory Island

“It really put into perspective how a person’s living condition plays a big role in their ability to access healthcare.”

Blair also spent four weeks travelling by boat to Moosonee to work at the community pharmacy.

She wanted to experience how a community pharmacy operated in Northern Ontario compared to an urban area pharmacy.

Extending experiences to the future

At the beginning, I didn’t know if I’d last the four months, Blair reflects. She learned a lot about herself and about the kind of pharmacist she wants to be.

“This was a big step outside my comfort zone but as individual practitioners we need to be able to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions because our patients are in those positions,” Blair says.