Shey Eagle Bear, a 24-year-old medical student, husband and father, could have found several reasons to not attend post-secondary education. He’s had his share of obstacles.
He and his now-wife Hillorie found out during his graduating year in high school that a baby was on the way. Instead of seeing this as a barrier to pursing his education dreams, he saw his newborn son Cohen as motivation to provide a more secure future for his young family.
“A lot of times you hear stories that years ago you could get a fairly decent job with no more than a high school education but now higher education pretty much means you are going to have a better paying job,” said Eagle Bear.
After Eagle Bear’s father passed away at a young age, his mother provided for her two sons as a single parent. He saw the effects of a low income and his mother’s encouragement inspired him to avoid a similar situation.
“My mom was very encouraging of my brother and I. She always put education as a priority for us,” said Eagle Bear. “Luckily she was encouraging, not strict. We weren’t in trouble if we didn’t get straight As but she was definitely happy to see us get good grades.”
Eagle Bear’s brother also pursued post-secondary education. He’s a third-year music student at University of Calgary. For Eagle Bear, music is a hobby but medicine is his career path.
Eagle Bear began his post-secondary education at Medicine Hat College in the pre-optometry university transfer program. He transferred to University of Lethbridge in 2008 and shortly afterward, decided the monotony of an optometrist’s office – “testing eyes, fitting glasses, all day,” he said - wasn’t the career for him.
He attended a pre-medical club presentation at U of L and realized much of his education would transfer to the medical program at University of Alberta, including Susan Higgins’ anatomy class he still remembers as his favourite. Now the second-year medical student has to choose a specialty.
“I’m pretty interested in orthopedics. Any type of surgery is kind of what I’m pointed towards,” he said. “I know it sounds cliché but I like to work with my hands.”
A 12-hour elective allowed Eagle Bear to shadow an orthopedic surgeon and observe surgeries, including a shoulder replacement and a spinal fusion. His second-year elective will be with a pediatric general surgeon.
Dr. Esther Tail Feathers, a relative of Eagle Bear’s, is the only physician on the Blood Reserve. Future plans may include moving home to fill the need for more family doctors.
“I know there is a high demand for doctors on reserves. Right now patients don’t see the doctor until something is wrong. There isn’t a lot in the way of preventative health care because of the shortage of doctors on the reserve.”
Eagle Bear served as a U of L science ambassador, working with the middle school on the Blood Reserve. A few times a week Eagle Bear would do science experiments in the classroom and helped establish a science fair.
An aboriginal health initiative at the U of A faculty of medicine and dentistry has also allowed Eagle Bear to share his story with First Nations students touring the facility.
“One of the classes that came had a few chaperones. It was funny to hear some of the chaperones say that they may actually go back to school after hearing my story. I like being able to provide a little inspiration.
Sometimes people get challenges in their way but the end goal is definitely worth it. I’ve been mainly speaking to aboriginal students but my message definitely applies to people of every race. Education is key for everyone.”
Shanna MohnsAlumni Relations Clerk
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