One indigenous student's dream

Fourth year medical student Jessie Nault stands in a hospital unit.

One day, all young Aboriginal women in Canada will be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer. And this will save lives.

This goal is certainly ambitious, but at 26, Jessie Nault, is not lacking in ambition.

Jessie was born in the town of Maniwaki, on the northern edge of the Outaouais, and is of Algonquin heritage. She is the first of her family to attend university. The fourth-year University of Ottawa student is enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine’s Indigenous Program, which is celebrating its tenth year.

For Jessie, cervical cancer was the obvious choice as a research project.

“My maternal grandmother died of a gynecological cancer,” she said. “It makes no sense that women are dying of this type of cancer when a vaccine can prevent nearly 100% of all cases. I wish that my grandmother could have benefitted from this kind of preventative care.”

The studies conducted on the incidence of HPV among Aboriginal women in Canada are troubling: these women are six times more likely to contract cervical cancer than are non-Aboriginal women.

The relatively high rate of this cancer among Aboriginal women is mainly due to a lack of access to PAP smears, the lack of follow-up care and the high cost of the HPV vaccine, Jessie explained. One treatment, which requires three doses of the vaccine, costs over $400. Jessie was adamant that young Aboriginal women must be vaccinated.

“My ultimate goal is to launch a campaign across North America among OB/GYNs to have them purchase the vaccine and distribute it to women in Aboriginal communities,” said Jessie.

Her research project will involve documenting the situation and identifying the causes of the higher incidence of cervical cancer among Aboriginal women. Once she has completed her research, Jessie intends to draft a series of treatment guidelines for medical professionals to prevent HPV, to detect it and to treat women who are affected by it.

The scholarships she has received from the University have allowed her to focus on her studies and research.

Once she has completed her medical training, Jessie intends to return to Maniwaki to practice obstetrics and gynecology. But for the time being, she is focused on her studies and her research, where her ambition is bound to pay off.

You too can make a difference. Donate to fulfill the dreams of Jessie Nault and other students enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine’s Indigenous Program.

In 2015, the University of Ottawa launched a $400 million fundraising campaign. Defy the Conventional: The Campaign for uOttawa is raising funds to support priorities in every faculty. The campaign will help uOttawa recruit and retain top talent and enrich the student experience.  Donations will also support innovative capital projects.

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