Dr. Melissa Shigwadja Wiky High School’s first med school grad

by Robin Burridge

WIKWEMIKONG—Wikwemikong High School (Wasse-Abin) alumni Melissa Shigwadja received her Doctor of Medicine earlier this month from the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University, earning her the status of the first Wikwemikong High School graduate to earn a distinguished medical degree.

After graduating from high school, Ms. Shigwadja attended Laurentian University where she received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing before attending McMaster.

Ms. Shigwadja has already landed her residency with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and will begin in Sudbury starting in July.

“Melissa is the very first graduate from Wikwemikong High School to go on to complete a Doctor of Medicine degree,” proudly commented Dominic Beaudry, education director with the Wikwemikong Board of Education, who is also Ms. Shigwadja’s father. “She is truly a role model for First Nations youth in Wikwemikong and Canada. As well, this is a high benchmark for First Nations school success. First Nations schools have produced, and continue to produce, high quality students that do well at high levels of learning in colleges and universities.”

Despite high praises, the 28-year-old Wikwemikong graduate was modest when asked of her achievement and reiterated her father in crediting her success to her “strong education foundation rooted in education and Anishinabe culture from Wikwemikong High School.”

“I am truly honoured to be the first Wikwemikong High graduate to compete a Doctor of Medicine degree,” added Ms. Shigwadja. “I can’t say enough positive things about the high school, from my amazing teachers to the supporting community. I am so grateful to the teachers who provided me with such an excellent foundation for learning.”

Throughout medical school, Ms. Shigwadja returned home to share her passion with her community’s youth, leading workshops during Wikwemikong’s annual career fair and talking about her program.

“When I lead workshops I bring with me other aboriginal medical students, hoping to show the high school students that they too can make their dreams come to fruition,” said Ms. Shigwadja. “I was very fortunate to have been able to attend Wikwemikong High School and have that experience, instead of being shipped off to neighbouring communities, as was the case in the past.”

Besides Ms. Shigwadja’s foundation at the high school, she also shared that she owed her success to her mother, a nurse practitioner, and her father.

“Seeing what my mother has done for the community and how she helps individuals, helped inspire me to become a doctor,” Ms. Shigwadja told The Expositor, “and my dad always taught me to believe in my full potential—that there wasn’t a goal I couldn’t reach.”

As for Ms. Shigwadja’s future medical career, she hopes to incorporate elements of her culture into her practice.

“It a very interesting time for medicine,” commented Ms. Shigwadja. “There are a lot of physicians collaborating with practitioners. I learned that many medical practices actually have aboriginal roots, such as antibiotics and surgery.”

As a mother of two, wife and now a medical resident, Ms. Shigwadja is excited to be returning to Northern Ontario and hopes to live and practice in Wikwemikong in the future.