Only a tiny percentage of the physician population in the U.S. is Native American. And the pipeline from Native communities to medical schools is providing only a trickle of students.
Washington State University’s College of Medicine is working with two other West Coast medical schools to increase the number of Native people prepare for careers as physicians.
According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, only about four thousand of the more than 700-thousand physicians in the U.S. report being American Indian or Alaska Native. That’s about one-half of one-percent. And the ratio of Native Americans to the entire U.S. medical school enrollment is about the same.
Leila Harrison: “They just didn’t have opportunities to see others before them pursuing this pathway," said Leila Harrison, the senior associate dean for admissions and student affairs at the Washington State University College of Medicine. “I think too we hear a lot about the educational system, especially on the reservation, may not be preparing them to think that they can pursue that pathway as well.”
To combat that, WSU’s medical school has worked with Oregon Health and Science University and the medical school at the University of California at Davis to secure a million dollar grant from the Indian Health Service. Together, they will work to recruit Native students to medical and health sciences careers. Next summer, she says, WSU will sponsor a six-week course for Native students to prepare them for applying to medical school.
“I really believe that getting aspiring doctors to your health science campus, interacting with your medical school, students and faculty is really powerful with any of these groups to help them feel like this is something they really can do and that they have a supportive environment and people to help them through that," Harrison said.
As part of the program, she says WSU will send four of its Native applicants who may have applied to medical school and been denied to Oregon Health and Science University for a 10-month preparation program. The students who complete that will then be accepted into WSU’s medical school.