TULSA, OK – A $3.5 million grant recently awarded to Oklahoma State University’s (OSU) Center for Health Sciences (CHS) will fund new programs and bolster existing ones aimed at recruiting and preparing Native American undergraduate students to enter medical school.
“Less than 0.2 percent of physicians are Native American in the U.S., even less in STEM careers,” said Kent Smith, Ph.D., Associate Dean of the Office of American Indians in Medicine and Sciences at OSU-CHS. “If students can see someone like themselves in medicine, and a pathway for themselves, they can create a vision for themselves in the future.”
The Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) Centers for Excellence awarded the grant to develop a Native American Primary Care Center for Excellence. The renewable grant, which will be distributed over five years, is being administered by Smith and Denna Wheeler, Ph.D., Director of Research and Evaluation at the OSU Center for Rural Health. The HRSA grant also provides scholarships and resources for Native medical students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty.
“Ultimately, we want to increase the number of competitive Native American applicants by providing training and resources to those students applying to admissions at the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine,” said Smith.
The grant will also supply funding for the development of a pipeline from undergraduate college to medical school for Native American students called “Native Pathways,” which utilize new and existing programs like hands-on recruitment events that travel to tribal communities and pre-admission workshops specifically for American Indian students. Building and developing partnerships with Oklahoma’s tribal governments and their health systems is vital to the success of American Indian students in medical school as those tribes provide residency, rotation and externship opportunities for students.
“We want to identify students who are committed to giving back to their communities,” said Smith. “Tribes want their own citizens to return home. That’s what this grant will help us do. Physician and patient trust and communication is so important – this is why we’re helping the tribes grow their own physicians, so to speak, and expand capacity for the tribal physician communities.”
The grant will also have a positive impact on the current Native American medical students attending OSU-COM.
“We want to ramp up academic support for medical students who are struggling and make sure our Native students don’t fall through the cracks,” said Smith. “That they have the resources and support they need to be successful at the end of the day.”
The U.S. National Cancer Institute also recently awarded a $2 million training grant called Native American Youth Enjoy Sciences (YES) that aims to increase representation of Oklahoma American Indian students in biomedical and cancer research. The grant was awarded to the partnership of the OSU-CHS, University of Oklahoma and the OU Health Sciences Stephenson Cancer Center. YES Oklahoma will provide a research training strategy where American Indian high school students will engage in hands-on scientific research and professionalization activities with a strong emphasis in cancer research.