As a nurse at the Ingram School of Nursing’s nurse-led clinics at the Native Women’s Shelter and the Native Friendship Centre, Lucie-Catherine Ouimet tries to create a safe space for her Inuit brothers and sisters.

June is National Indigenous History Month – a time to reflect on the historic contributions of Indigenous peoples to the development of Canada as well as the realities of present-day Indigenous communities. We sat down with Faculty-Lecturer Lucie-Catherine Ouimet, R.N., BSc.N, MSc.N, who works at two of the Ingram School of Nursing’s nurse-led clinics – the Native Friendship Centre and the Native Women’s Shelter.

The daughter of an Anishinaabe mother who grew up in the Gatineau Valley and a French-Canadian father, Lucie-Catherine Ouimet was raised in the peaceful suburb of Beaconsfield, where she integrated easily into the French and English speaking communities. It was only years later, while working in public health and community nursing on the streets of Kelowna and community healthcare in Quebec City that she was exposed to the effects of systemic racism. Today, as a nurse at the Ingram School of Nursing’s nurse-led clinics at the Native Women’s Shelter and the Native Friendship Centre, Ms. Ouimet has come full circle. “Although I didn’t have the First Nations experience growing up, I feel that I’ve found my place with my people. I love working here.”

Comprised of six nurse-led clinics serving vulnerable populations in Montreal, the ISoN’s Community Nurse Clinic Network is a lifeline for people who have been completely disconnected from the healthcare system. Barriers to accessing proper care include homelessness, intergenerational trauma, sexual abuse, substance use and previous negative encounters with the health care system. Building trust takes patience and time. “I try to create a safe space where my Inuit brothers and sisters can receive the care they need without being judged,” Ms. Ouimet explains.

Lucie-Catherine Ouimet discovered nursing later in life, after a career in archeology and anthropology that took her to New York’s Cornell University, Syria and Greece. While working in Bulgaria for l’Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) as the coordinator of an MBA program for doctors, she had the opportunity to work on joint projects with the Red Cross focusing on the experiences of the Roma. She felt an instant kinship with this nomadic Indo-Aryan ethnic group and decided she wanted to do more hands-on work. Back in Canada, she was hired by the Groupe de recherche en intervention psychosociale to work on a research project on cultural sensitivity and awareness at Hôpital Ste. Justine. Encouraged by Université de Montréal nursing professor Bilkis Vissandjee, Ph.D., to consider a career change, she took the plunge and earned a Bachelor’s in Nursing followed by a master’s in the Nurse Practitioner Program. “From the beginning, I was drawn to issues affecting women’s health and First Nations,” she recalls.

Nursing is well suited to addressing frontline needs, says Ms. Ouimet. “We are the missing link in the healthcare system.” Equally important, the ISoN’s nurse-led clinics serve as an eye-opening training ground for McGill nursing students, who learn the importance of cultural humility, building trust and exercising clinical judgement. “It’s a big wake-up call for them and a big learning curve,” notes Ms. Ouimet, who is impressed by how the students continue to rise to the challenge of examining their own unconscious biases.  She believes students hold the key to creating a more equitable and responsive healthcare system. “Change begins with awareness and a willingness to talk about these issues. That’s why I’m optimistic about the future.”