When Katerina Beland graduated from the Pharmacy Technician Program at Edmonton’s Norquest College in May, she immediately moved home—eight hours north to High Level—to begin her career.
“The city, I didn’t like it that much,” she said. “People up here really appreciate it when people come back. You get a lot of people who grow up and just leave. But a few people want to stay in their community and help make it better.”
As a provisional pharmacy technician working in a community pharmacy just down the road in Fort Vermilion, Katerina is doing just that.
“Fort Vermilion is the town my parents grew up in,” said Katerina. “I know a lot of the community members. We also deal with the reserves in the area. I send off baby supplies to the reserves. It’s nice to know we can supply the people there with what they need, being so far north.”
Being far north, however, also presents its share of challenges. Helping patients who live on remote reserves can be difficult.
“A big thing for our patients is access,” she said. “We have three reserves we ship their prescriptions to. It’s really hard getting the patient into the pharmacy and having that face-to-face contact. Some reserves are an hour and a half away and you can only access them with either a barge or a plane, so we can’t really get to them.”
Katerina is part of the Tallcree First Nation based in Fort Vermilion. It’s a tight-knit community where friends are considered family. And her pharmacy’s patients appreciate the connection she has with her community.
“If you’re First Nation, everyone feels like they have a better understanding of you,” said Katerina, who is hoping to be a positive role model for other young people in her community. “I’m hoping to get more people thinking about health career opportunities. The doors were open for me. My parents helped a lot financially, so I could focus on my studies. I wasn’t funded through my band, but I did get a Northern Alberta Bursary, so that helped a lot.”
Katerina’s experience at Norquest was a positive one. As a three-time recipient of the Indigenous Careers Award for academic achievement, she was invited to Norquest’s Indigenous Achievement Ceremony in 2017.
“It was actually very nice. For me, it felt like I was right at home with the music and dancing,” she said. “They marched all the grads in a line and it was all very cultural and traditional. I really appreciated it.”
And when she completed her studies, returning home to northern Alberta was a natural—and popular—decision.
“My pharmacy family was very happy that I came back,” she said. “I have lived in High Level most of my life. My family still lives there. I met my husband there. He still has a lot of family there. It’s home for me.”