Dr. Brent Jim is the first Indigenous Gynecologic Oncologist in Canada. (Contributed photo)

Wet’suwet’en man becomes only Indigenous gynecologic oncologist in Canada

Dr. Brent Jim is working toward improving cervical cancer screening rates for Indigenous women.

In 2003, The Interior News interviewed 17-year-old Smithers Secondary graduate Brent Jim as he was leaving for McGill University in Montreal, determined to become the first medical doctor from Witset.

Almost a decade later, he did it and graduated from medical school at the University of British Columbia.

Fast forward to 2020 and Dr. Jim is now the only Indigenous gynecologic oncologist in Canada.

He completed a program in gynecologic oncology in December at the University of Calgary.

“Generally, I’m fairly modest but I am honoured to be the first Indigenous gynecologic oncologist,” he said. “I wish I wasn’t. I’ve tried to avoid the spotlight my whole life. I hope I am not the last. I hope I open the doors and encourage others to follow suit.”

A gynecologic oncologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancers that are located on a woman’s reproductive organs.

He went into this field when he discovered early on in his training that he enjoyed surgery and complex patients.

“I love the problem solving in the operating room,” he said. “I love the patients. Generally patients are very appreciative of the things you do for them.”

One of his short term goals is to look into and improve cervical cancer screening rates among Indigenous populations.

In general, cervical cancer rates are not higher amongst Indigenous woman but Dr. Jim explained the difference lies in the stages when they are discovered.

“With a good cervical cancer screening protocol we should be catching most cervical cancer in the early stages but for some reason Indigenous woman are more likely to present with advanced cervical cancer,” he explained. “Either because they aren’t getting screened or because the disease biology is different. I want to look at the reasons why this is occurring and how to improve it.”

Dr. Jim said his long term goal is to do his best and treat woman to the best of his ability.

He recently moved to Regina and is working at the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency.

“It was the closest I could get to Smithers without being in Vancouver,” he said. “There were no jobs in Edmonton or Calgary. I need a cancer centre to work in and Vancouver is too busy and too expensive to live in. This opportunity popped up and I jumped at it. I applied and was offered the position.”

When asked if he would ever move back to northern B.C. to work he said he would love to.

“Working in Prince George would be my dream. It is just getting an infrastructure there in order to accommodate a gynecologic oncologist. There is no gynecologic oncologist in Prince George. There are two in Victoria and eight in Vancouver and that is it for the entire province.”

Dr. Jim isn’t done with his education yet having just applied for a masters of public health.

-with files from Marvin Beatty

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