In May, Kevin Brousseau officially became a doctor when he graduated from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). Two months later, Dr. Brousseau, a Cree from Waswanipi, is settling into his residency at the Timmins and District Hospital.
His path to medical school was atypical compared to most med students. Before fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, Brousseau was a Cree language coordinator for the Cree Nation Government, after obtaining an MA in Linguistics from the Université du Québec à Montréal and working on the Moose Cree dictionary. He was already in his 30s, when he took a leap of faith and moved to northern Ontario with his wife and three children to study medicine at NOSM because he felt it was the right fit for him.
“NOSM has a social accountability mandate that is focused on Indigenous and francophone communities in the north, so it was just a great place to train,” said Brousseau.
While medical school is a path few Cree have taken, Brousseau wanted to share his story of becoming a doctor in the hopes that other Cree youth may realize that it is a tangible goal – even if the pieces don’t fall into place immediately. Brousseau said his parents raised him to believe that he could do anything. And he remembers his paternal grandmother always remarking “how nice it would be to have a doctor in the family.”
“When I started seriously considering the idea of studying medicine, Dr. (Darlene) Kitty and Dr. (Elaine) Innes, two Cree doctors from our region, encouraged me and convinced me it was doable,” he said.
Brousseau explained that medical school was an “interesting experience”. He said students who usually do really well academically have to get used to getting mediocre grades because it’s a program where “there is just so much we don’t know,” so students are faced with a steep learning curve.
What makes Brousseau’s story more intriguing is that studying medicine wasn’t his biggest challenge, as he had a brain tumor removed during his second year of medical school. He said, shortly after New Year’s 2017, he sat down to study for an upcoming exam and suddenly found that he couldn’t read anything.
After his wife insisted on taking him to the hospital, it was discovered that he had “a huge brain tumor the size of a tennis ball.”
Originally thought to be malignant, once the tumor was removed a week after its discovery, it was found to be benign. In light of the positive outcome, Brousseau decided to push himself to resume his studies so as to not lose his second year. While he took some time off and could only read with one eye for several months, Brousseau was able to catch up over the summer break and rejoin his classmates in September.
Now doing his residency in Timmins after having done rotations in Moose Factory and Mistissini, Brousseau said his plan is, as it always has been, to work in “Cree country.” However, this will be contingent on what kind of opportunities are available when the time comes and what the rest of his family wants to do. He said that Cree country is Cree country, be it in Saskatchewan, Ontario or Quebec, though his family is pushing for a return to Ouje-Bougoumou, where he had earlier worked for the CNG.
After all the hard work he put into getting to this place in his career, Brousseau wanted to underline that “the most valuable resource in our communities is our young people.” Every young Cree has a vital role to play if they choose to apply themselves and obtain an education, whether it is a diploma, a degree or a traditional education like the Elders had.
“Education is the key to our success as a people. We should encourage our young people to obtain an education so they can become assets to our communities. Remind them to set goals and encourage them to apply themselves to achieve those goals. Nothing is impossible,” said Brousseau.