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Future doctors learn importance of cultural safety for Indigenous patients

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Vancouver – All University of British Columbia (UBC) medical students will be better equipped to care for Indigenous patients as a result of taking the San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program, which is now part of their required curriculum. 

The first of its kind in Canada, the San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training was created by the Provincial Health Services Authority’s (PHSA) Indigenous Health program to improve cultural safety for Indigenous people cared for by non-Indigenous health care professionals. It is available to Indigenous and non-Indigenous health professionals working in BC’s health authorities, related provincial government ministries, Indigenous health organizations and partner agencies. 

UBC-educated doctors will now enter the workforce with an awareness and understanding of Indigenous patients’ experiences and the barriers Indigenous people face in accessing health care. While the training has an Indigenous focus, many participants say the knowledge, awareness and skills they gain has enhanced the way they engage with all of their patients.

PHSA’s Indigenous Health program is funding this course for UBC medical students as a pilot project and has committed to sponsoring a third group in the 2016/17 academic year.

Quick facts

  • Nearly 27,000 people in BC have completed the San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program since its launch in 2010. 
  • This program has also been adapted for use by the Government of Ontario, with 3,000 people there having completed the training, and is currently being adapted in Manitoba.
  • San'yas means 'knowing' and 'to know' in Kwak’wala, the Indigenous language of the Kwakwaka'wakw Peoples, whose traditional territory lies in northern Vancouver Island and surrounding areas. 
  • Through interactive and facilitated online training, participants learn about aspects of history and contexts for understanding social disparities and health inequities. They also examine Indigenous diversity, stereotyping, and the impacts of colonization, while learning tools to develop more effective communication and relationship-building skills. 
  • Being a culturally safe provider is especially important for health care professionals in British Columbia, which has the second highest Indigenous population in Canada. 
  • The Indigenous population in BC is thriving, with 20 per cent growth between 2006 and 2011 compared to five per cent for non-Indigenous people. Yet, Indigenous people in BC continue to experience the greatest inequities in health and access to care, and many experience harms and discrimination when receiving services. The movement towards cultural safety is about fostering a health care climate that is safer and more equitable for Indigenous people.


Terry Lake, Health Minister, Province of British Columbia – 
“By taking this training, medical students are embarking on a life-long journey that acknowledges the need for cultural reflection and respects the history and lives of Aboriginal and Indigenous patients in British Columbia. It’s our responsibility to provide care that is culturally safe and accessible by all.”

Cheryl Ward (Kwakwaka'wakw), Interim Director of PHSA Indigenous Health and Provincial Lead, San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety –
“I am very pleased that UBC medical students will now be learning about Indigenous cultural safety as part of their required course work. Ensuring that Indigenous people feel safe and respected by health care professionals is critical to improving access to health care services. By educating doctors before they begin to practice, we hope to equip them with knowledge and tools to better serve Indigenous patients, resulting in improved health outcomes for Indigenous people.”

Dr. Nadine Caron (Anishinaabe) MD, MPH, FRCSC, Co-Director, University of British Columbia Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health & Associate Professor, Dept. of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine (Northern Medical Program) – 
“As a practitioner and researcher with an interest in improving the health status of Aboriginal, northern and rural populations, I am very encouraged to see future doctors learn the importance of Indigenous cultural safety. Having Indigenous patients feel safe, listened to, and have their heritage and traditions respected are key to improving the health and well-being of our communities.”

Joe Gallagher, CEO, First Nations Health Authority –
“The First Nations Health Authority knows first-hand how valuable the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program is – all of our employees are required to complete the training. We commend UBC’s Faculty of Medicine for supporting future health professionals in learning cultural humility. Our hope is that this course will reduce racism and improve access to culturally safe health care for First Nations people in British Columbia.”

Learn more

For more information about the San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program please visit:​​

To learn more about PHSA’s Indigenous Health program please visit: 

The Provincial Health Services Authority plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @PHSAofBC.


For more information or to arrange an interview:

Vincent Chou
Provincial Health Services Authority
Media pager: 604-871-5699

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