Born:

March 12, 1942

(Hamilton, Ontario)

Died:

January 17, 2021

Education:

MD, McMaster University (1981)
BSN, University of Alberta (1977)

Awards & Honours:

2019: Invested as a member of the Order of Canada

2012: Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal

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Thomas Dignan

Dedicated his life to improving the health and well-being of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Thomas Dignan

Created safe spaces for systemic change and mentorship

Dr. Dignan is admired for his decades of devoted service to Indigenous Peoples in Canada. A Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, he advocated tirelessly to eradicate inequities in Indigenous health care, legendary for his stalwart resistance to systemic racism in the medical profession. He helped assure mandated Indigenous health care training in postgraduate medical education (PGME) across all Royal College residency programs and mentored generations of Indigenous physicians. A licensed pilot and fly-in physician, he brought health care to remote and isolated regions of Ontario while serving as president and founding member, respectively, of the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association and Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada (as they are known today) - pillars of Indigenous health care advocacy. Throughout his long career of selfless service, including a drive for a national standard of vaccination against chicken pox, Dr. Dignan brought attention and care to vital on-reserve health care issues. A champion for systemic change, his inspiring personal journey from soldier to nurse to physician exemplifies his drive to advance the cause of comprehensive and equitable health care for Indigenous People everywhere.

Key Facts

Helped to secure mandated Indigenous health care training in postgraduate medical education (PGME) across all Royal College residency programs

Mentored generations of Indigenous physicians

Brought health care to remote and isolated regions of Ontario

First President of what is now the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association and founding member of the now Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada

Spearheaded a drive for a national standard of vaccination against chicken pox

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

Dr. Dignan’s pioneering work in promoting and extending health care services for Indigenous Peoples in Canada has permanently improved the condition of all Indigenous Canadians. One of the first to draw attention to on-reserve health care issues, Dr. Dignan helped to ensure that postgraduate medical education in Royal Colleges now includes Indigenous health care training in all residency programs. His personal example as a courageous physician serving Indigenous health care needs remains a model and inspiration in the ongoing effort to provide equitable and effective health care to all Canadians. A mentor to generations of Indigenous physician leaders, Dr. Dignan and his legacy live on in the growing ranks of Indigenous physicians and nurses now working throughout Canada.

Thomas Dignan

2022

  • Heather Dignan, Daughter of Dr. Dignan

    Thomas Dignan is posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    Ottawa, Ontario

  • Appointed by the First Nations Information Governance Centre to the Research Ethics Committee for the First Nations Regional Health Survey

  • The Royal College establishes the Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award

    Awarded annually to celebrate Canadian Indigenous physicians or physicians-in-training, Elders or Knowledge Keepers who epitomize a zeal and devotion to Canadian Indigenous rights and the dogged pursuit of justice for Canada’s Indigenous people.

  • Chair of the Indigenous Health Advisory Committee (AHAC) - Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Ottawa

  • Wahano Health Access Centre

    Acts as primary care physician at the Wabano Health Access Centre

    Over the span of four years, Dr. Dignan worked directly with the urban Aboriginal population of Ottawa.

  • Council Member of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

  • Co-Chair of the National Collaboration Centre for Aboriginal Health (NCCAH) - University of British Columbia

  • Sits on the board of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada (IPAC)

    This position involved the organization and facilitation of conferences and educational opportunities as well as networking with native physicians in Ontario and mentoring of aboriginal medical students.

  • Holds the position of Medical Director at the Thunder Bay District Community Care Access Centre

  • As a primary care physician at the Anishinawbe Muskiki Native Health Access Centre, Dr. Dignan works directly with the urban aboriginal population of Thunder Bay

  • Helps found the Native Physicians Association of Canada

    Public Health, Health Promotion & Advocacy

    Now known as the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada (IPAC), this organization was formed to encourage and support First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth wishing to become medical doctors, to support those already in training or practice and to promote the work of its members in their many capacities and disciplines.

  • Sits as secretary and Member of Board of Directors of the Native Physicians Association of Canada (NPAC), now known as the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada (IPAC)

  • Completes his MD at McMaster University

    Thomas Dignan was McMaster's oldest graduate and first ever of First Nations ancestry.

  • Becomes first President of the Native Nurses' Association of Canada

    The Early Days - Health Care Pioneers

    This association is now known as the Canadian Indigenous Nurses' Association.

  • Enrolls at the University of Alberta to obtain his Bachelor of Science Nursing degree

  • Graduates third in his class from St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in Hamilton, Ontario

    He then joins the Adolescent Unit at the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital and later, the Outpost Nursing Station in Berens River, Manitoba as Nurse-in-Charge.

  • Enters the US Marine Corps and, during his service, earns his high school equivalency

  • At the age of 16 and following the death of his father, Thomas Dignan leaves high school to work as an office boy and stockroom clerk to support his mother and two sisters

1958

Dr. Dignan was a mentor to our current and future Indigenous physician leaders who carry on his passion for the health and wellness of Indigenous Peoples.