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New Program Boosts Native American Interest in Health Professions

Feb 22, 2017 08:45PM ● By MED Magazine
By Peter Carrels

Recognizing the need for more Native Americans working in health professions, the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine and the USD School of Health Sciences have initiated programs such as Indians into Medicine (INMED) and the USD Healthcare Career Summer Camp (HCSC), to encourage and support Native American high school students to pursue post-secondary education and careers in healthcare and medicine.
The newest initiative, the Native American Healthcare Scholars Program (NAHSP), which is funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services–Office of Minority Health, works with eight select Native American students at Red Cloud and Wagner high schools (four from each school). In its first year, the program has already produced some promising results.
Red Cloud high school junior Stephanie Emery of Pine RIdge joined NAHSP as a junior, following the advice of a high school counselor. “I like science and math, and I want to continue working in healthcare as a researcher in a medical laboratory,” says Emory. She has now been accepted to USD where she plans to prepare for a career in healthcare. “I am Oglala Lakota,” she said, “and I see a great need for healthcare professionals on my reservation.”  
This is precisely the type of success story Kathy VanKley, the NAHSP coordinator at USD, envisioned when the program was launched.  “Our aim is to encourage each of our students to pursue healthcare careers,” says VanKley. “Students who attend USD can remain in the scholars program and enjoy NAHSP benefits all the way through college.  However, if they choose to attend college elsewhere we will do our best to stay in contact with them, and urge them to continue preparing for a healthcare profession.”
Program benefits for students include attendance at state and national American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) conferences, support to attend summertime academic enrichment programs, research and internship opportunities, and regular mentoring by experienced healthcare professionals, academics and university students. Mentor advice can range from how to apply to a university to what to expect when working in various healthcare professions.
Emery’s research experience at USD had her working with two seasoned scientists investigating streptococcal infections. She was excited to learn how research is conducted, and to be working in the Andrew E. Lee Memorial Medicine and Science Building where biomedical research is performed at USD. “It was a terrific experience in a really beautiful building,” says Emory. Emery also presented about her research involvement at the national AISES conference in Minneapolis.
VanKley reports that all the program’s first participants have expressed a significant level of interest in healthcare as a career and that four of the scholars have committed to attending USD in the fall of 2017.
Another program scholar –a student named Marilyn Frank who is also at Red Cloud High School- interned last summer at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C., where she assisted on research about injured spinal cords. Marilyn later presented about that research at the national AISES conference in Minneapolis.  Nearly all NAHSP scholars participated in summer learning and enrichment opportunities.  
Current sophomores at Red Cloud or Wagner high schools who are interested in applying for the 2017-2018 scholars program can talk with their school counselor for more information.  

Peter Carrels is Communications Coordinator for the University of South Dakota School of Medicine.