Native American art is displayed alongside clusters of cedar and sweetgrass in the student lounge at the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Duluth campus.
This is the school’s American Indian and minority health center and a popular place for Native American medical students to take a break. Many say connecting with each other is invaluable to their education and ultimately improves the health of Indigenous peoples.
Since opening in 1972, UMD’s medical school has become one of the largest producers of Native American medical graduates in the United States. That number is still small. In this year’s freshman class, he enrolled five Indigenous students.
Currently, UMD is believed to be the only school in the nation requiring eight hours of instruction in Native American healing. Dr. Mary Owen, director of the center and president of the Native American Medical Association, is lobbying other medical schools to adopt her Native American health education course requirements.
The number of Native Americans seeking a medical degree has remained the same for 40 years. It’s not hard to see why, says Owen. Minnesota’s overall high school graduation rate is 83.8%, while the native graduation rate is 55.7%.Native American he is well below 1% This is the number of medical students nationwide and does not reflect the 2% of native US citizens.
“We stand on our side, but where the hell is the US government in educating indigenous peoples?” said Owen.
Owen said the current vacancy rate for Indian Health Service clinics and hospitals in the Duluth area is 46 percent. A 2018 Federal Accountability Office report reported a vacancy rate of 25% for him across India’s health services across the country.
That’s part of the inspiration behind the new course requirements at UMD, Owen said. Most doctors treat indigenous patients at some point, but it’s hard to treat people properly without knowing anything about their culture, she said.
“We have to educate white people on how to take care of us,” she said.
The eight-hour course touches on how historical events have affected indigenous peoples, health disparities, caring for those who have experienced trauma, and traditional medicine. This coursework will be included in all U Medical School curricula as early as this fall.
Owen had never met a native doctor until he entered UMD Medical School in 1995, when Dr. Gerald Hill was the director of the center. It was a relief for Owen, who spent years working “garbage jobs” in his hometown of Alaska after college. “We always had that kind of support, validation that you weren’t crazy,” she said.
After college, Owen visited the Alaska Native Medical Center for a urinary tract infection and recognized the urgent need for a Native physician. “She remembers feeling like an alien in her healthcare system,” she said.
After graduating from UMD and spending 11 years as a primary care physician in the Tlingit community of Juneau, Alaska, Owen returned to Minnesota in 2013 to lead the center and make a greater impact in improving the health of Indigenous peoples. bottom.
“Why are you stopping there?”
Cailean Dakota MacColl, a first-year medical student, stopped by the center to honor MacColl’s mothers, Cree and Métis, before working with the cadavers. Teach me to wash my face with medicated water before death.
Another freshman, ZhaaZhaa Greensky, attended a smudging ceremony provided by the center. “They had the elders come and pray,” she said. “It’s been very helpful to me.”
Native American students say they are more likely to succeed, even in small things, when their history is recognized and respected.
Greensky, 26, of Marble, Minnesota, remembers two pivotal moments in her decision to pursue medicine. When she was eight years old, she visited her grandmother in the hospital and repositioned her pillow to better support her legs. “I started to realize that I really like taking care of people,” she said.
Years later, when she said she wanted to be a nurse, a teacher challenged her. “You may become a doctor.”
After graduating from Michigan Tech, Greensky (as Anishinaabe) was thrilled to find community at the Duluth Center. She put cedar in her shoes, sage next to her heart, and having a native classmate to check in with, she said, made a difference.
Her dream now is to practice family medicine in the Fond du Lac settlement near Croquet.
“I was able to help the community in a way my grandma, sister and father could not, and that led me to the end of the day,” said Greenski.
MacColl, 29, grew up in Oregon to a “smart, intellectual” surgeon father and remembers running around the hospital where he worked. One of McCall’s grandmothers nursed a man injured with a chainsaw in the kitchen, and another worked as a traditional medicine woman in the Cree community.
When my sister got sick, McCall became her caretaker. It was humble, but MacColl had a knack.
Searching for a medical school that blended modern careers with traditional cultural practices, McCall said her interview with Owen was “like talking to your aunt.”
“We are really traditional people, but we have a really non-traditional story. This school gave us the opportunity to be ourselves.” The more people who can understand themselves as, that’s how we live.”