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Two-Spirit physician visits Queen's to discuss decolonizing medicine

New lecture series debuts with expert in Indigenous and LGBTQ2+ health.

James Makokis (centre) standing with lecture series supporters M. Nancy Tatham (left) & Donna Henderson (right).
Lecture series supporters M. Nancy Tatham (left) and her partner Donna Henderson (right) pictured with guest speaker James Makokis.

A new lecture series promoting equity, diversity, and inclusivity in medical education debuted with a talk by James Makokis, a family physician from Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta who leads one of North America’s most progressive and successful transgender-focused medical practices.

“Indigenous youth have one of the highest rates of suicide in the country, and that rate increases even further when we look at transgender members of that group,” said Dr. Makokis to an audience that packed the Britton Smith Lecture Theatre and a second, overflow space at the Queen’s University School of Medicine. “Every family medicine physician has within their scope of practice a general medical license that gives them the ability to provide transgender care. Medical students and residents, take time to learn to do this in your practice. It will be one of the most fulfilling areas of your career and you will help save lives.”

His lecture, entitled Decolonizing Medicine: Creating an Inclusive Space for Transgender and Two-Spirit People, is the first in the newly-created Dr. M. Nancy Tatham & Donna Henderson Lectureship – a series of talks featuring scholars and experts from diverse backgrounds discussing inclusivity in health, with a particular focus on LGBTQ2+ and Indigenous issues.

Dr. Makokis, who is both Cree and Two-Spirit, discussed language used around gender in medicine, the history of gender and First Nations people, and access to transgender care and hormone therapy. He explained that ideas of transphobia and homophobia are colonial social constructs, and argued that decolonizing medicine can be achieved through simple acts, like acknowledging and accepting LGBTQ2+ patients and providing care that meets their needs.

“Take off your white lab coats,” he said. “It holds so much institutional symbolism, but it can also serve as a barrier. Take it off and seek to relate to your patients in a human way. I guarantee this will help you have a long, healthy, and happy medical practice and career.”

Supported by a donation from Dr. Tatham and Ms. Henderson, who are both long-time activists, the lectureship is organized by the School of Medicine’s undergraduate Diversity Panel. Students on the panel expressed a deep enthusiasm in putting Dr. Makokis forth as the first speaker in the series.

“Understanding the impacts of the historical and ongoing oppression faced by our patients is so essential in being able to provide excellent care,” says Ayla Raabis, Queen’s medical student and Diversity Panel member. “We must constantly strive to undo our own biases to be able to truly connect and ensure we are seeing our patients as the complex people we are tasked with caring for. Dr. Makokis’ talk was such a valuable opportunity to learn from his unique personal and professional experience, and to inspire us to push for making medicine a safe space for all patients.”

Notably, Dr. Makokis and his partner Anthony Johnson won the most recent season of well-known television competition The Amazing Race Canada. They were praised for using the platform to raise awareness of Two-Spirit people.

The October 23 talk from Dr. Makokis was the first in the new annual lecture series. Information on future Dr. M. Nancy Tatham & Donna Henderson Lectureship talks will be shared on the School of Medicine website.

“We're excited to carry the momentum of this talk forward by hosting additional events centred around improving access to healthcare and delivering culturally-informed care to LGBTQ2S+ and Indigenous populations,” says Danny Jomaa, Queen’s medical student and member of the Diversity Panel. “As trainees in medicine, it's important for us to build approaches to care that are formed on the principles of equity and respect for marginalized groups.”