Training Indigenous doctors for more equitable health care
Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2022
By Michelle Read
All Canadians deserve equal access to medical care. But in Dr. Jeffery Weitz’s experience, this is not always the case for Indigenous populations.
Several years ago, Dr. Weitz set out to explore why these discrepancies exist. After an in-depth examination of the provision of health care to Indigenous peoples, he realized he could help bridge the gaps in a simple, yet profoundly impactful, way.
In 1976, Dr. Weitz graduated with his MD from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine. With so much knowledge to absorb in medical school, little time remained to delve any deeper into why things happen —but Dr. Weitz was brimming with curiosity.
“It was those ‘whys’, the thirst to seek answers, that pushed me into research,” explains Dr. Weitz, now a thrombosis doctor, researcher, and professor at McMaster University.
As a physician, Dr. Weitz has seen first-hand how Indigenous populations are often at a disadvantage when it came to medical care.
“In my medical practice I have held consults with Indigenous patients, some of whom are coming from the prison system,” he says. “I’ve seen the way they have been treated, which is abysmal,” he says.
“Other Indigenous patients have described their inadequate access to counseling and health information,” he continues. “This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to making informed decisions, including decisions about vaccinations. This is not equal access to health care.”
Dr. Weitz was inspired to seek ways of helping train learners in support of bridging social inequities in medicine, specifically for Indigenous populations.
In fact, his ambition has motivated a planned legacy gift for the Faculty, which will provide funds for Indigenous medical students in need—support which he hopes will lead to fair, respectful, and culturally safe medical care of Indigenous people.
“Although reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is moving forward, it seems to be at a glacial pace,” he says. “I want to support efforts at uOttawa and at McMaster to promote education for our Indigenous learners, and to ensure that we have Indigenous physicians.” The gift will provide bursaries for Indigenous students in need and will support healing and wellness facilities.
Further, Indigenous medical students and physicians can share their knowledge with the whole medical community, “which helps us provide the best care for all Canadians,” he says.
Dr. Weitz has always been passionate about education and learners. Driven to lend a helping hand, he has provided support for the Faculty of Medicine’s learners over the years.
“Helping with education is the best way to give anyone a leg up,” he says. “Building a successful life starts from the ground up, with a good education.”
He also feels it’s important to give back to the university that laid the path for his career. “UOttawa gave me my start, and I’d like to give others a start,” he says.
The Faculty prepared him well, he says, for his own career successes, starting with the medical challenges he encountered as a resident in Toronto.
“I found myself mentoring interns from other med schools, who hadn’t had as much experience as I had had with a whole variety of things,” he says. “The Faculty’s MD program prepares you very well as a generalist.”
As a clinician-scientist, Dr. Weitz now heads a well-funded lab, with his research spanning the spectrum from the basic biochemistry of blood clotting to clinical trials. Recently, his studies of the high rates of clotting in COVID-19 patients translated into guidelines on the care of COVID patients and the importance of getting vaccinated.
“If I see something in a patient that I find interesting, I take it back to the bench, study it, and take what we find back to the clinic,” he says, “so my work is often bedside to bench and back to the bedside again.”
Today, Dr. Weitz remains very connected with his alma mater, keeping in touch with his med school pals and working with the Faculty’s team of thrombosis doctors on research projects. He also enjoyed a 25-year reunion with his peers – “But that’s a long time ago now,” he laughs.
He encourages people to give to causes they are passionate about. For Dr. Weitz, those have changed over time, but he always felt committed to the University of Ottawa and helping provide security for the Faculty’s future.
“I’m playing a small part in ensuring a future for learners,” he says.
“And training more Indigenous doctors will play a big role in ensuring equitable medical care for all.”
Banner photo credit: Georgia Kirkos/McMaster University