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Association of Native American Medical Students: Their Narratives and the Need for More Native Doctors

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Group photo of ANAMS students
ANAMS students participating in a lecture workshop at the national conference held in Chicago, IL.

Establishing a sense of belonging in medicine can be tough for Native medical students who are often one of few or the only Native student in their medical school classes. According to the AAMC FACTS data, only 36 students who identified as American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) alone and not in combination with any other race or ethnicity matriculated into medical school during the 2020-21 academic year. There were 212 matriculants who identified as AIAN in combination with another race or ethnicity. While this total is a bit larger, it still represents a small portion of all 22,239 matriculants reported during this academic year.

Despite limited representation, many Native medical students have found a sense of community through membership in the Association of Native American Medical Students (ANAMS). Three members took the time to share how ANAMS has influenced their medical school journeys, premedical initiatives hosted by the organization, and considerations for future doctors to care for AIAN communities.

Baroness “B” Castra Nemici (Cherokee Nation)
Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), M2

Headshot of Castra Neemici
  • Is there anything unique about your journey you would like to share?

In addition to being Indigenous, like so many people in Indian Country, I am an individual who lives with disability. It has been very intimidating to come into medicine knowing how few Indigenous people are in this field, and even more so knowing that there are even fewer people with disabilities.

I feel that it is important for me to succeed so that I can help light the way for others to follow — it can be very hard to become something that you can’t see or imagine. I’m here to help change the statistics and demonstrate that people like me can do this. We have so much to give to the field of medicine, and we belong here.

  • How has ANAMS influenced your journey to becoming a physician?

ANAMS has been an incredible source of strength along this journey. Having this space of community and shared experience while making my way through medical school has been a blessing. Historically, there have been very few of us in medicine and it can be a challenge to overcome the hurdles of med school when you don’t see your people on the other side. It is such a source of inspiration to be here with a generation of Indigenous scholars who are so committed to the health of our communities, and to bringing the gifts of our cultures to medicine.

ANAMS collaborates with Oklahoma State University to provide a Native American Preadmission Workshop (NAPA). Preadmission workshops are invaluable because they clarify some of the mysteries in the process and can help bolster an applicant’s confidence before the process begins. We also provide other workshops in partnership with the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP), local organizations, and other allies. Personally, I also mentor premedical students.

  • Is there anything you would like to share with the broader premedical community about preparing to care for AIAN communities?

I think the most important advice is to engage with our communities using the same skills with which we engage with patients: truly listen and approach with humility. There are a lot of narratives out there about what it means to be AIAN, and most are inaccurate if not outright offensive. Take on the challenge of educating yourself and be willing to learn a new way of understanding the world that hasn’t been taught to you before. Be brave enough to embrace the vulnerability that is required to learn the history of this place and its people. Be open to supporting our people defining ourselves, sharing our gifts, and listening when we bring a new perspective.

Hailey Baker (Cherokee Nation)
University of Minnesota, M1            

Hailey Baker Headshot
  • What encouraged you to pursue medicine?

I am fortunate to have the support of my family and community, and come from a strong line of Native nurses that inspired my initial interest in the healthcare field. I was encouraged to pursue medicine as a way to give back. As a patient in tribal clinics, I experienced some of the difficulties that our people face in a healthcare setting, such as frequent turnover and cultural misunderstandings. We need physicians who understand us, and my personal connections continue to shape my path and career.

  • What do you consider to be the top three benefits of being an ANAMS member?
    • Social and professional support as an AIAN medical student from others in medical school and from the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP).
    • Opportunities to engage in professional initiatives to better AIAN healthcare and educational presence.
    • Additional resources such as study materials, internships and research opportunities, and webinars/seminars designed to prepare us for upcoming steps in our careers.
       
  • What piece of advice would you provide AIAN premedical students?

Follow what you’re passionate about, even if it doesn’t fit the typical “premed” pathway. Explore your heritage, participate in cultural activities, and know that you are bringing powerful knowledge and experiences to medicine. You are enough to be a physician, you can succeed in this setting, and we need you.

  • Is there anything you would like to share with the broader premedical community about increasing the number of AIAN physicians?

We need to increase the number of AIAN physicians because research has shown that patient-physician matches lead to better health outcomes. The system is failing our people from birth and this has a cascade effect on the amount of AIAN people pursuing higher education. I encourage everyone to educate themselves on the social determinants of health affecting Native populations because whether you are practicing in a tribal health center, Indian Health Services, a rural community, or a metropolitan area, you will be caring for AIAN patients.

  • Additional Comments?

You are more than your MCAT, GPA, or any other number. Follow your passions as you write your story. Your story speaks louder than your statistics.

Brandon Postoak, (Chickasaw and Mississippi Choctaw)
Oklahoma State University College of Medicine (OSU-COM), M4
ANAMS President

  • Is there anything unique about your journey you would like to share? 
Brandon Postoak Headshot

At first, I wanted to attend physical therapy (PT) school because I knew a few Native American PTs, but I didn’t know any Native American physicians. I began meeting all the prerequisites for PT school and started to shadow. I discovered this wasn’t my calling and began to look to alternative routes. A few professors recommended I pursue medicine although I didn’t think it was attainable. I was a native kid from a small town and didn’t feel as if I was intelligent or qualified enough. Through much encouragement from professors and my family, I started to prepare myself for medical school.

I took the MCAT and didn’t do so well. I was not accepted into medical school and had to do something different. I applied to graduate school at OSU-CHS and was accepted into the Master of Biomedical Sciences program. During my first year of graduate school, I took my second attempt at the MCAT, and surprisingly to myself, did a lot better. It did not come easy, but I began to develop hope that I could be a physician. I kept working hard and re-applied that year. Through blessings and dedication, I was accepted as a matriculant to the OSU-COM in 2018.

  • What type of premedical initiatives are offered via ANAMS?

ANAMS collaborates with organizations such as AAIP (our parent organization), the American Medical Association, AAMC, and many more to develop tools to recruit premedical students and aid our current graduate students. Through ANAMS, we can create a family and offer support for all of our students. We also look to provide mentorship to our students for the journey many of us were unfamiliar with during our premedical stage.

  • What piece of advice would you provide AIAN premedical students?

The advice I would give to my fellow Native American students is to remember you are resilient. Almost everything in this world was meant to erase who you are culturally and ensure you fail, but you will not! Many of you will be the first in your family, community, or even tribe to chase medicine and become a physician. Remember your roots and use your culture and lifetime experiences to overcome your barriers.

  • Additional comments?

If you ever feel like you are not enough or struggling to make things happen like I once did, please reach out to us! We can provide mentorship, help you with studying techniques, or even be a listening ear. You can find more information about us on www.anamstudents.org or send us an email at anams1975@gmail.com. We would love to talk with you and help you in any way we can. Indian Country is ready for change, so please help us be that change for our people. Chokma’shki.

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