Published in the July 2011 AAMC Reporter
By Whitney L.J. Howell
Fred Redwine’s medical school experience could have ended with anatomy class.
“The basic sciences are tough,” said the 39-year-old first-year student at the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “I would likely have failed if I hadn’t had access to my tutor.”
Luckily for Redwine, an American Indian from the Choctaw tribe, he came to medical school as part of North Dakota School of Medicine’s Indians into Medicine (INMED) program, a nearly 40-year-old initiative that not only recruits American Indian students to medical school but supports them with tutoring and other targeted resources.
Although American Indians make up only about 1 percent of matriculated medical students, according to AAMC data, their numbers are growing. In 2010, the population of American Indian medical students swelled by nearly 25 percent, thanks in part to efforts like those from North Dakota and other schools, such as the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. The ultimate goal, coordinators said, is to provide a needed infusion of physicians into tribal communities, which are plagued by numerous health problems including diabetes, conditions related to substance abuse, and many others.
Henry Sondheimer, M.D., AAMC’s senior director for student affairs and student programs, attributed the growth to burgeoning relationships between schools of medicine and health sciences. These partnerships, including the Four Corners Alliance of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah universities, as well as collaborations with the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP), identify talented American Indian students early on and work to increase the likelihood they will study medicine.
The key is recruiting students in a culturally sensitive way. Recruiting materials that incorporate elements reflecting American Indian culture are an important start, said Norma Poll-Hunter, Ph.D., director of the human capital portfolio in the AAMC’s diversity policy and programs unit.
INMED has worked toward this goal since 1973, accepting seven North Dakota medical school students each year from federally recognized tribes. Through tutoring, a dedicated library, counselors, and emergency financial aid, INMED gives its students resources to succeed academically. To date, 196 INMED students have graduated medical school, with 70 percent of them returning to their tribal communities.
Program director Eugene DeLorme, J.D., credits tribal group support and INMED’s welcoming atmosphere with helping students acclimate and feel comfortable in class.
“We’ve flourished because we have buy-in from tribal communities. They have as much ownership over INMED as the institution does,” he said. “But we also create an environment where students know they aren’t alone. They don’t feel isolated because they have personal, social, economic, academic, and spiritual resources.”
North Dakota’s school of medicine also helps to prime the medical education pipeline with three six-week summer programs associated with INMED—Summer Institute, Pathway at UND, and Med Prep at UND—that introduce health affairs courses and practicing American Indian health professionals to students from junior high school through college. The programs present the prospect of medical school long before students begin to apply.
INMED also has a strategy to help its students feel like part of the larger medical school class, said DeLorme. Before classes start, INMED hosts a dinner to introduce new students to the program’s upperclassmen. In addition, DeLorme gives a three-hour presentation to the entire first-year class, providing details about INMED and tribal health care. Lastly, UND ensures INMED students work with peers from majority groups in all parts of its patient-centered curriculum.
For students like Redwine, INMED made medical school possible.
“Being in INMED provides an incredible support network of people who understand your circumstances and difficulties. We’re very connected to each other and share similar circumstances despite being from different tribes,” Redwine said. “Of course we hang out and socialize with other students, but we have camaraderie—we encourage and urge each other to never give up.”
Upon graduation, Redwine said, he plans to return to the federally protected Choctaw estate in Oklahoma to focus on health policies affecting his community.
Like North Dakota, New Mexico attracts American Indian students by presenting medical school to younger students. The institution’s B.A./M.D. program reserves room in medical school for incoming college freshmen from diverse backgrounds—including the Navajo tribe— who make a pledge to practice in the state’s underserved communities. Each year, the B.A./M.D. program reserves 23 spots in the incoming medical school class.
In April, as part of the Four Corners Alliance, New Mexico hosted a pre-admission workshop, in collaboration with the AAIP and several other medical schools, for undergraduates interested in applying to health affairs schools. According to Valerie Romero-Leggott, M.D., vice president of New Mexico’s Health Science Center Office of Diversity, the conference gave aspiring doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and physician assistants inside information on how to be a successful applicant. Students went through mock interviews after learning how best to present themselves, received guidance on writing personal statements, and gathered information on financial aid.
These programs are designed to let American Indian students see early on that, despite financial or personal challenges, they belong in and can achieve much in medical school, Romero-Leggott said. They are, in fact, a critical component of the future of American Indian health.
“Our programs are beneficial because students overall must feel safe and supported in their surroundings if they’re going to succeed,” Romero-Leggott said. “With all of our different programs, we’ve created that climate and constantly reinforce that message to our students. They are part of a community. They are not an island.”
To read the article on the original Website: https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/reporter/july11/254630/native-american.html