Neil Fowler, Program Assistant: HIV/AIDS & Aboriginal Health

Written by Dave Lefebvre

Neil Fowler’s traditional name is Paqtesm Ji’nm. It is the Mi’kmaq translation of his spirit name “Timber Wolf Man”. Neil was given this name at a Yuwipi ceremony at St. Paul’s Hospital a couple of years ago. A Yuwipi is an Aboriginal healing ceremony in which a Medicine Man calls upon the Creator and the ancestors who have passed on to the spirit world to bring healing. Often at Yuwipi, people are given their spirit or traditional name. At this Yuwipi Neil asked the Medicine Man if he could ask the ancestors for his spirit name. The answer that came back was Timber Wolf Man. And yes, he will gladly respond to both names.

Neil has been working at PHC as the program assistant for HIV/AIDS and Aboriginal Health since October 2009. He is a man of two worlds and every day he works to bring them together bridging the gap between his traditional culture and the world of health care.

What do you do at PHC?  

Most of the work I do is to support the Immunodeficiency Clinic (IDC). I do some administrative things like data entry, and order and maintain clinical supplies and equipment, as well as a lot of project work that comes up in our programs. I am also quite involved in quality improvement, and patient engagement initiatives. I co-facilitate our IDC Patient Advisory Group, our weekly drop-in Patient Care Experience Group, and I also support our Aboriginal Nurse Practice Leader with a weekly Talking Circle for Aboriginal patients of the hospital in the All Nations Sacred Space here at SPH. Since coming to PHC I have learned that one of the issues affecting the lives of many of our patient population is food insecurity, so we try to always make food available at meetings for our patients. It has proven to be an effective engagement tool that not only meets a nutritional need, but helps to provide a relaxed, low barrier atmosphere.

How does your culture influence the work you do at PHC?

My aboriginal Mi’kmaq culture is something that I have been embracing and learning more about as I get older. Although I was not raised practicing traditional ceremony growing up, it is something that I have really connected with. I am happy to help patients of our hospital have that experience as well.

What have you learned at PHC that you can take back to your culture?

 I am currently enrolled in the Aboriginal Health and Community Administration Program at UBC, and something that we talk a lot about in that program is the importance of a good Aboriginal Leader being able to “walk in both worlds”.  I think working at PHC with an amazing interdisciplinary team –both in my department as well as throughout the hospital has sharpened my networking skills. I think this enables me to better assist our patients and their families navigate the hospital system when called upon.

What has most surprised you during your time at PHC?

Coming into health care after 20 years in another industry was a bit intimidating at first. I was a bit worried about not being accepted into a clinical environment, and that my skills would be under-utilized. I very quickly realized, however, that people really are all the same everywhere, and as long as you work hard, others will appreciate you, and value your contributions to the team.