Bernice Downey, who has led the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Indigenous Health Initiative since 2017, has been appointed as the Faculty’s first associate dean, Indigenous Health. 

“Dr. Downey is well-prepared and an excellent choice in this important new role,” said Paul O’Byrne, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences. 

“This senior academic administrator role is the result of the Faculty’s commitment and priority to fulfil the national Truth and Reconciliation directive that we educate learners and influence the achievement of more positive health outcomes for Indigenous people in Canada.”

Downey is an assistant professor of both the School of Nursing and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences and has a 40-year career as a healthcare leader, educator, researcher and consultant with a focus on Indigenous health and well-being. 

She is of Saulteaux-Ojibway heritage and followed her BSc in nursing from the University of Ottawa with her masters, PhD and post-doctoral work in medical anthropology at McMaster. She joined the faculty in 2017 and, besides leading the Indigenous Health Initiative, she has been the acting director of McMaster’s Indigenous Research Institute since 2019. 

As associate dean, she will oversee and promote Indigenous health initiatives within the Faculty, reporting to the executive vice-dean and associate vice-president, academic and the dean and vice-president of the Faculty. 

She will work with the vice-dean, education; the vice-dean, faculty affairs, and the associate and assistant deans of the Faculty’s education programs, to advocate for Indigenous health resources. 

“Dr. Downey is exceptionally skilled at nurturing relationships and bringing diverse stakeholders together in new ways to achieve critically important outcomes,” said Susan Denburg, executive vice-dean and associate vice-president, academic of the Faculty. 

Downey will oversee the development of an Indigenous Health Learning Lodge, encourage the development and support of Indigenous health programming, address barriers to Indigenous faculty recruitment, and work with associate and assistant deans to integrate Indigenous health education into program curricula. 

“I’m excited about implementing our strategic plan and establishing the Indigenous Health Learning Lodge,” said Downey. “This leadership role and the ongoing collaboration with all stakeholders is a critical part of the work ahead towards improving the learning experience for Indigenous learners within the Faculty of Health Sciences now and for those who are coming.”

“I move into this leadership role knowing that Dr. O’Byrne, along with many administrators and faculty members, now stand as Indigenous health allies. This support and advocacy is an action-oriented commitment to also addressing the serious health inequities experienced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.”