Nursing Graduate Awarded Chancellor’s Leadership Medal

Monique Desjarlais receives award for superior academic achievement and dedication to Indigenous Health.

Allie Voisin - 14 July 2021

As a Saulteaux (Ojibway) woman from Muskowekwan First Nation, Monique Desjarlais is the first in her generation to graduate from university. 

Making the choice to pursue an education in nursing came naturally after receiving exceptional care from her nursing team who treated a resistant bone infection. Her illness — which rendered her in the hospital for months at a time — was resolved after her first year of university following eight surgeries, extensive antibiotic regimens, and long-term procedures. 

Though she’ll never regain full range of motion in her arm after the initial injury, Desjarlais’ nursing team made a lasting impact on her — their encouragement to overcome challenges inspired her to help others as they helped her. 

“It has been my goal to work in a profession where I can actively advocate for Indigenous people, and have the opportunity to provide meaningful care to families,” says Desjarlais, who graduated from the University of Alberta Faculty of Nursing in 2021.

As the recipient of the U of A’s Chancellor’s Leadership Medal, this award is a momentous milestone for Desjarlais and the Indigenous community. She’s honoured her excellence in academia and community involvement is being acknowledged and celebrated. 

As an Honor’s student, Desjarlais was supervised by Faculty of Nursing Associate Professor Dr. Sherry Dahlke, where she undertook a research project, which was published in the International Journal of Nursing Student Scholarship.

Over the course of four years, Desjarlais has mentored and facilitated learning opportunities for Indigenous students and youth across Alberta and Saskatchewan. She developed an eight-week health promotion summer youth group in a Northern Alberta community during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide health education and foster resilience among Indigenous Youth aged 13-17.

She co-founded the Indigenous Nursing Students’ Association (INSA) with the primary purpose of creating a culturally safe student community for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students within the Faculty of Nursing. Desjarlais used the INSA to advocate for culturally safe practises, admission requirements, and mentorship opportunities.  

As a former Transition Year Program student, she also volunteered at the bridging program to assist current students interested in pursuing a career as a Registered Nurse (RN). 

As a graduate nurse, Desjarlais plans to invest her time in remote communities, providing and improving healthcare access to rural populations. She aspires to pursue graduate studies with the goal of becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP) in order to provide more extensive health care services to rural Indigenous communities.

“I am very thankful for the experiences and opportunities I have had over the past four years and I look forward to being a part of the positive change amongst Indigenous communities during my future endeavours,” said Desjarlais. 

“I hope others are encouraged to strive for their dreams and reach their fullest potential despite the challenges that First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people face.”