‘Trailblazing’ medical grad looks forward to providing care for underserved Indigenous communities

A Manitoba First Nation is celebrating a local university graduate for more reasons than one.

Brooke Cochrane, 26, will officially become a medical doctor in June after graduating from the Max Rady College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba.

Not only is she the first in her family to do so, but she’ll be the first doctor to come from Fisher River Cree Nation.

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“I think it’s a very big honour to be able to represent Fisher River, as well as Cree peoples, within the medical school system in Manitoba,” Cochrane says.

“As we know, Manitoba has a large population of Indigenous peoples, and therefore Indigenous patients, and I think it’s very important for physicians to represent the population that they serve.”

The ambitious soon-to-be doctor will be pursuing rural family medicine during her residency at Boundary Trails Health Centre, but intends to eventually return to Fisher River to serve her home community.

“Myself entering medical school, as well as other Indigenous medical students entering, I think we’re really making a shift that is super important for the safety and the cultural safety Indigenous patients will face and see when they enter into health care,” Cochrane says.

Brooke Cochrane with her grandparents on the first day of medical school. Supplied / Brooke Cochrane

Having spent considerable time working in different First Nation and Inuit communities during medical school, Cochrane says she feels drawn to helping provide health care to those who don’t have the same access as urban centres.

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Her father, Harold Cochrane, says those weren’t the first times his daughter witnessed disparities in the health care system.

“She saw her grandfather — my father — who has diabetes, like most people do in the communities, having to travel to Winnipeg three hours (away). And he’s never been serviced by an Indigenous physician,” Harold says.

“So I think that was part of Brooke’s goal to change that.”

However, Cochrane wasn’t satisfied waiting for her medical degree to begin making a difference.

Read more: Manitoba nursing graduates start careers in the midst of pandemic

During school, she learned Manitoba was one of the last provinces in Canada to provide universal coverage of the medical abortion pill Mifegymiso.

“What this meant was that for folks living in rural or remote Manitoba, anyone living outside of Winnipeg or Brandon, had to pay $300 out of pocket to access this pill. So this was a huge discrepancy and added to this huge gap in health care outcomes for Indigenous peoples,” Cochrane says.

She and four other colleagues teamed up to organize a letter writing campaign, and a rally at the Manitoba Legislature.

Brooke Cochrane speaks during a rally at the Manitoba Legislature to press for universal coverage of the medical abortion pill Mifegymiso, which was ultimately successful. Supplied / Brooke Cochrane

Ultimately, they were successful, with the provincial government announcing plans to fully cover the drug in June, 2019.

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Cochrane calls it her “proudest moment.”

“It was my first big jump into advocacy and it really sparked something within me that advocacy is something I hope to continue in my future, and I hope to continue down this route of Indigenous health promotion,” Cochrane said.

“When our advocacy efforts were recognized and were successful it was so remarkable to reflect on those folks who had difficulties in the past and how now this barrier has been erased, and how much of a benefit this will be for Manitoba as a whole.”

Read more: Manitoba children’s health closely tied to income bracket: U of M study

The elder Cochrane says their family is extremely proud of everything she has accomplished, after nearly a decade of studying and hard work.

“One thing that impresses me most about my daughter is she’s not forgotten where she comes from,” Harold said.

“She has a real appreciation that her family has struggled, with residential school and all the issues that flow from that. So she knows who she is and she wants to give back, and that’s what I’m most impressed with.

“That has not changed, that’s who she is.”

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Cochrane’s grandparents were survivors of the residential school and day school systems.

“Any barrier can be overcome, and I hope that my story can inspire others or sort of spark to tackle those kind of scary extremes,” Cochrane said.

“I have had the great support of my community, and my family, and my friends throughout my journey, and I would not have been able to do that without the support of everyone around me.”

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