In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the need to increase access to medical education and healthcare in Indigenous communities. One initiative that is making significant strides in this area is the Oklahoma State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation. This program, located in Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, is the only medical school on a Native American reservation and is affiliated with a tribal government.
The program aims to address the shortage of physicians in rural and tribal communities, particularly among Indigenous populations. It provides a unique learning experience for students by immersing them in the communities they will serve. Students in Tahlequah have the opportunity to study on the Cherokee Reservation and participate in rotations in small communities and facilities run by the federal Indian Health Service.
A Holistic Approach to Medical Education
The program in Tahlequah takes a holistic approach to medical education, recognizing the importance of understanding the specific challenges faced by rural and Indigenous patients. By living and studying in the community, students gain firsthand experience of the barriers to care and develop a deep understanding of the healthcare needs of these populations.
For example, students learn about the lack of access to healthcare facilities in some rural areas, where patients may have to travel long distances for basic medical services. They also learn about the impact of social determinants of health, such as limited access to healthy food options and the prevalence of chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity.
Addressing the Disparities in Medical Education
The program at Oklahoma State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation is also working to address the disparities in medical education and representation. Historically, Native Americans have been underrepresented in medical schools, with only 0.2% of those accepted to medical school in the 2018-19 school year identifying as Native American.
By actively recruiting and supporting Native American students, the program aims to increase the number of Indigenous physicians who can serve their communities. Currently, nearly a quarter of the medical students in Tahlequah are Native American, with most of them coming from Oklahoma tribes.
The Impact on Rural and Indigenous Communities
The presence of a medical school on the Cherokee Reservation has significant implications for the healthcare of rural and Indigenous communities. It ensures that more doctors are trained to serve these populations, who often face challenges in accessing quality healthcare. The program also helps to address the shortage of healthcare providers in rural America, where only a small percentage of incoming medical students come from rural backgrounds.
The Cherokee Nation has made a substantial investment in the program, contributing $40 million to construct the college building on its medical campus. This commitment reflects the tribe's dedication to improving healthcare access for its citizens and the surrounding communities.
The Oklahoma State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation is making significant strides in increasing access to medical education and healthcare in Indigenous communities. By immersing students in the communities they will serve, the program provides a unique learning experience that prepares them to address the specific healthcare needs and challenges faced by rural and Indigenous populations. Through this initiative, more Indigenous physicians are being trained to serve their communities, helping to bridge the gap in healthcare disparities and improve the overall health outcomes of these underserved populations.
Keywords: medical education, Indigenous communities, rural healthcare, Oklahoma State University, Cherokee Nation, access to healthcare