At the end of last month, McGill University medical students donned their white coats at the annual white coat ceremony – a ceremony signifying a medical student’s move from the classroom to a clinical setting during their studies. Students carried flowers and wore their best suits and dresses for the occasion as they prepared to start work with real patients.
But one student wore a particularly meaningful item as he accepted his white coat and recited the hippocratic oath pledging allegiance to the core values of the medical profession.
Kahnawa’kehró:non Craig Sky, 21, proudly wore a beaded medallion, made by Janice Patton, bearing a staff with two coiled snakes – a well-known symbol of the medical field.
“I’m just super excited. I’m super nervous also, but this is exactly what I’ve been waiting for,” said Sky, who is now in his second year at McGill Medicine and will be beginning his clinical rotations in Montreal hospitals this January. “It’s really going to be cool to put everything into practice and to start developing my clinical skills and surgical skills. And to really start making a name for myself, because your career starts the moment you step into a hospital.”
Sky has been focused on his dream of pursuing a medical degree for years. It all started with a mini-medicine camp in Chicoutimi in high school, after which his heart was set on a career in the field.
“I knew that medicine was my career, and I instantly started doing everything I needed to do to get to it,” he said.
He completed a Health Sciences program at Marianopolis College before being accepted to McGill’s pre-med program – a particularly impressive feat given the school only accepts 70 applicants. Though it’s been a rigorous journey, he said the support of his community is what got him to where he is today.
“I’m realizing already that Kahnawake has always supported me, and always had my back,” he said. “It’s something I want to get back to. I don’t exactly know where my career will lead me, but no matter what, I always hope to find a way to return home.”
Stephanie Horne, Sky’s mother, has been there for him every step of the way.
“Craig was always a very determined child who always put his heart and soul into everything from a very young age. I encouraged him to pursue his dreams when he told me he wanted to be a doctor,” she said. “I did what a mom does – I was there for him and I loved him.”
To celebrate her son’s success, Horne commissioned Patton to make Sky a beaded medallion, something that he can carry with him to future milestones in his medical career.
“I took it apart like four to six times – I started and I stopped, and I started again,” laughed Patton, explaining it was important to her that the medallion was perfect. “I had to speak with some of my beading masters.… It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this, and I have to say, I think it’s my best beadwork I’ve done so far.”
Patton said she was touched that Horne and Sky had wanted a medallion made to celebrate his achievements.
“It’s going to last a lifetime, and it’s going to be passed on to generations,” she said. “I’m so very proud of him, and I know he’s going to be an excellent doctor one day.”
Sky has a few more years before he is officially a doctor, with a planned graduation date of 2026. In the meantime, McGill Medicine said that the faculty has been working to increase support for Indigenous students in medicine programs.
“We offer financial support, we provide reimbursement for students for any material that they need to purchase for their courses,” said Alex Allard-Gray, program manager for the Indigenous health professions program, which assists students in all McGill health professional programs.
Allard-Gray explained that his office has an open-door policy for Indigenous students to discuss content that may have been triggering or misinformed, adding that it’s his office’s responsibility to ensure any content of that nature is corrected. He said the main priority is ensuring Indigenous students can thrive at McGill.
“We think it’s incredibly important with the location of McGill being in Tiohtià:ke to have students from Kahnawake within our program,” he said. “Craig is a role model not only for his cohort, but also for his community, and so I’m very happy to see the success that he’s been able to make for himself, and we’re very happy to continue supporting him on his journey.
As Sky continues on his medical journey, he said he always feels spurred on by the fact he is inspiring others back home, as well as by the memory of his grandmother, Norma Jacobs-Horne, who passed away last year, during his first year at McGill.
“She told me always to push myself hard and to excel,” he said. “She just wanted me to become the best possible physician I can be and inspire others along the way. Whenever I’m feeling down, I just think of her. It’s nice to know she’s still watching over me.”