New program connects Indigenous Yukon youth with career opportunities in healthcare
Sylas Itsi pulls a strip of individually packed pills from the drug dose-packaging machine in Whitehorse General Hospital’s (WGH) Pharmacy. He verifies the counts are accurate, adds them to the medicine cart and prepares to deliver them to units around the hospital.
Sylas is a recent graduate of F. H. Collins Secondary School. He’s an avid landscape photographer, enjoys skiing at Mount Sima, and travels to his family’s Ross River cabin on long weekends. At age 19, he’s also one of the hospital’s youngest employees and newest technicians in the WGH Pharmacy.
Sylas joined the team in December through Yukon Hospitals’ new Indigenous Workforce Initiative (IWI), an organization-wide effort to build a representative workforce by growing the number of Yukon First Nations working in all areas of our hospitals, retaining more Indigenous team members and improving Indigenous professional development opportunities.
Benefits abound for health system, patients and Indigenous youth starting a career
Despite a limited knowledge of pharmacy and hospital operations, Sylas had applicable, valuable skills to support entry-level work. His responsibilities include packing medication carts and stocking medication cabinets in WGH’s inpatient units. He also had the opportunity to help pack and distribute the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in support of Yukon’s vaccination efforts earlier this year.
“Drug names can be tough to pronounce, but the team has been supportive and welcoming as they teach me what I need to know to do my part,” says Sylas. “I’m quite comfortable now, progressing well in the role and it’s a rewarding feeling to help those who care for patients.”
It’s hands on, fast-paced work, but Sylas is a quick study.
“It’s been wonderful having Sylas join the team and our senior technicians have really taken him under their wing,” says Prev Naidoo, Pharmacy Manager. “He’s hardworking, punctual and respectful. He brings a youthful energy that improves our team’s dynamic, and we’ve benefitted by adding a perspective from outside our department and organization.”
An organization-wide effort to recruit and hire more Indigenous youth
Sylas learned of the employment opportunity through Marshal Johnson, who works in Yukon Hospitals’ First Nations Health Programs. Late last year, Marshal was working closely with local high schools and youth-serving organizations while preparing to launch the IWI. He immediately recognized Sylas’ potential.
“I knew Sylas was driven and could bring a lot of skills to our organization,” says Marshal. “He was upgrading his diploma, and I learned he also spent much of his life on the land with his elders—an experience that requires attention to detail, a strong work ethic, and an understanding of how important it is to learn from leaders. These are great traits for any employee, let alone a teenager just starting a career and looking at post-secondary education opportunities.”
Marshal matched Sylas with an open position in the Pharmacy. With support from Prev and the pharmacy team, Sylas is excelling in his new role. He’s also considering post-secondary education to earn a professional designation as a Pharmacy Technician, which would further develop his skills, expertise and career opportunities in the pharmacy field.
A supportive learning environment ideal for early career experience
Sylas says the best parts of the job are the challenging, fast-paced nature of the work and the satisfaction of knowing he helps those helping patients. He encourages anyone interested in a career in healthcare to consider the many opportunities available.
“If you’re Indigenous, I think you should pursue a career in healthcare or the hospital because the system as a whole would benefit from more Indigenous representation, contributions and perspectives,” he says. “You might be surprised to see how many important roles exist behind the scenes to support hospital operations, and everyone supports each other as a team. I’d encourage anyone interested to go for it, but don’t expect it to be easy—it’s hard work.”
Prev agrees, adding that there are also many benefits to healthcare careers.
“Healthcare can be challenging and intimidating, which is understandable,” says Prev. “We care for very sick people, and it’s serious work, but there are clear rules and procedures for everything. Once you’re familiar with it, it’s like any other job. I encourage anyone interested in healthcare, or post-secondary education related to healthcare, to try a casual position to see if they like it. It could be an ideal job experience, particularly early in your career.”
The Indigenous Workforce Initiative (IWI)
Yukon Hospitals is committed to including First Nations and Indigenous ways of being, doing and knowing as they pertain to the past, present and future of health care.
If you'd like to learn more about the IWI and opportunities at Yukon Hospitals, please contact Marshal Johnson: