Dr. Esther Tailfeathers

Dr. Esther Tailfeathers. Image credit: REDx TALKS

A calling to help Indigenous patients

Dr. Esther Tailfeathers knew from an early age that medicine was her calling.“As a teenager, I worked as a candy striper in the Cardston Hospital,” recalls the family physician. “One day a friend of mine came in ready to have her baby and there was no one else there to support her. I asked the doctor if I could go in with her. She was 14 and I was 16. He let me gown-up and I was with her as her baby was born,” explains Dr. Tailfeathers. “Right then, I knew what I wanted to do.”

Today, she spends most days working four blocks from where she was born and raised, serving the people of the Blood Tribe in Southern Alberta. It was a long and winding journey home for the family physician (known by her patients as “Dr. T., Dr. Esther or Esther”), who is also the medical lead for the Population, Public and Indigenous Health Strategic Clinical Network at Alberta Health Services and an impassioned advocate for improving Indigenous health care.

Good advice

Despite her early interest in medicine, Dr. Tailfeathers found the journey to family physician anything but easy. “I had a high school guidance counsellor tell me it was impossible, and that I should look at teaching or nursing – something that was more realistic.”

Instead, she completed a degree in Native Studies, married and moved to Norway, where she lived amongst the Sami people. Dr. Tailfeathers was living there when her younger brother, Darcy, in his third year of medical school at the University of Alberta, died in a car accident.

“I had spoken to him the week before he died,” says Dr. Tailfeathers. “And he told me I should go into medicine. He said the profession needed more people from our community and that it was very rewarding.” When she returned home to Alberta for his funeral, Dr. Tailfeathers decided to follow his advice. 

The AMA advances patient-centered, quality care by advocating for and supporting physician leadership and wellness.