Hanna Dunnigan, who is Métis, is a fourth-year medical student set to graduate from USask on June 9. (Photo: Submitted)
Hanna Dunnigan, who is Métis, is a fourth-year medical student set to graduate from USask on June 9. (Photo: Submitted)

USask Métis medical student realizing lifelong dream of becoming family physician

Since she was a kid, Hanna Dunnigan has always had an internal drive to help people.

“In kindergarten, I told my parents I wanted to be a firefighter in the morning, a police officer in the afternoon, and a doctor overnight so I could fix up all the people I rescued during the day,” Dunnigan recalled.

Dunnigan, who is Métis, is a fourth-year medical student preparing to graduate at this year’s University of Saskatchewan (USask) Spring Convocation celebrations, June 6-10 at Merlis Belsher Place.

Born and raised in Regina, Dunnigan travelled to North Dakota after high school and completed her Bachelor of Science in biology while on a softball scholarship at the University of Jamestown. While in the United States, she worked at the Anne Carlsen Centre, a facility for children with developmental disabilities or delays needing varying levels of care, including educational, home care and medical care.

“I got to be part of that integrated health care team,” Dunnigan said. “(The experience) really validated my goals to pursue a career in medicine.”

Dunnigan’s application to the USask College of Medicine undergraduate medical doctor (MD) program was accepted and she was back in Saskatchewan the following year.

During medical school, Dunnigan found herself drawn to specializing in family medicine.

“I really liked the variety family medicine offers,” she said. “I had opportunities to experience rural family medicine in northern Saskatchewan.”

“I really enjoyed the scope of practice that family physicians have,” she added. “They can work in a rural or remote area and essentially practice the entire scope of medicine. Or they can practice a subspecialty, such as addictions. You can kind of do a little bit of everything.”

“Being in some of those more rural and remote areas, I was able to gain an appreciation for the kind of bond that some physicians form with the communities and patients they’re working with. And be able to be part of that community.”

She gained rural family medicine experience through the Making the Links program offered by the college. The Making the Links program provides medical students with opportunities for clinical experience in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

While medical school can be challenging in general, with the extensive course load and the demanding hours, Dunnigan described a feeling that some medical students may find familiar.

“I think in terms of challenges, there’s always that feeling of imposter syndrome that most students experience,” she said. “I think that can especially be challenging for people who identify as a member of a minority group within the class as well.”

“In the first year of school, you’re always kind of wondering – you have so much to learn in such a short period of time – you’re wondering if you’ll be able to learn it all, or if you fit in or belong.”

Those feelings of uncertainty were eased slightly when it came to clinical experiences in medical school, through speaking to patients.

“Definitely some of the highlights are the times when all that hard work pays off, like when you get to sit down one-on-one with a patient and talk about their health care experiences in the system and provide a listening ear for them,” Dunnigan said. “I think as medical students, we do have more time to sit down and talk with patients.”

Dunnigan is now set to begin her residency at the Red Deer Family Medicine Program in Alberta starting in July.

She had a piece of advice for Indigenous students considering medical school, applying, or currently in the MD program.

“Don’t give up,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but you definitely belong there. It’s important that you’re there. Keep working hard and look to your friends and your family for support when you need it.”

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