Four years ago, on a summer evening spent on a Montréal patio, a friend told me about a position for a nutritionist posted for the Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre.
My first reaction was “What? Move and work in the Far North? No, that’s too far away for me, my friend.”
I went home that evening and, out of curiosity, I looked up the posting online, for which the deadline for application had already come and gone.
I read and reread the job description and criteria and realized that the job corresponded exactly to my qualifications. Moreover, I realized that I would be the first nutritionist at the health centre and that my task, should I obtain the position, would be to set up the service, which would include both clinical and preventive components. This, I thought in spite of my remaining doubts, was a worthy challenge.
I discussed with my friend Carole, and she convinced me to apply and helped me draft a cover letter. Thus, and still somewhat hesitant, I applied for the position on a Sunday evening before going to bed.
And so, a few weeks later, I was hired. I have to admit, I was stressed and had not at all expected the hiring process to be so quick. In fact, I received a call from Kuujjuaq informing me of the moving details before I even received the letter announcing that I was hired. And that was how I learned I was to live and work in the Far North.
So, on the day of my departure, November 18, 2013, the agent at the First Air counter told me that there was a possibility of landing in Iqaluit rather than in Kuujjuaq due to bad weather. “What?” So what would I do? I thought maybe I would get to see a polar bear on my first day in the North. Alas, no. It would take three years before I would see one, an experience that few people have a chance of having. I also learned quickly enough that working in the Far North requires much patience and confidence given the almost omnipresent uncertainty, especially with regular travel between the villages.
From a professional point of view, when you work in the Far North, you constantly face psychosocial challenges such as the high suicide rate, consumption problems, the housing problem and certain medical problems, tuberculosis being one example. However, as nutritionist, I must admit that the challenge is just as daunting and even greater than I had expected. Covering all the aspects—clinical and preventive, health promotion, even food security—for the entire population of the Ungava subregion requires organization, discipline and creativity. But the most important thing is understanding Inuit culture and the challenges that the population must overcome to stay healthy. To succeed here, you need to be aware of the local needs and especially remain humble. And when the youths in the village start calling you Mr. Smoothie, you know your activities have had some degree of positive impact on them, and that is reassuring.
The Far North is this vast, beautiful territory with its hidden surprises and numerous challenges. I had the chance to discover it thanks to my work as nutritionist, which has enabled me not only to experience its grandiose landscapes but also to meet some wonderful people.
That was how I discovered the Far North. Now I invite you to discover it in your own way.
Alain Ishac, Nutritionist
Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre