Helping Native Americans build careers in health & medicine

SOURCE: Sean k.q/Unsplash
This joint project will help Native American youths enroll in medical school.

By U2B Staff 

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A joint project between the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board and three Northwest medical universities is aiming to increase the number of Native American health practitioners to improve public health in the community.  

The Reimagine Indians into Medicine (RISE) joint project was established to substantially increase the total number of Native American medical and health science students in the nation. 

It is a collaborative effort between the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, Oregon Health & Science University, University of California Davis School of Medicine, and Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. 


“One of the primary reasons health disparities still persist in American Indian and Alaska Native populations is a shortage of Native physicians, practitioners and researchers,” said Washington State University Health Sciences Vice President and Chancellor Daryll DeWald. 

“This joint project enables us to expand the important work we’ve been doing to provide pathways and resources for Native students to enter the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and other medical professions, all to produce more Native health professionals who can help eliminate disparities.”

RISE builds upon initial recruitment efforts to encourage the enrolment of Native American students into the participating medical schools and create clear pathways for successful careers in medical and health science. 

Native American Health
RISE will offer clear pathways for successful careers in medical and health science. Source: Luis Melendez/Unsplash

According to a media release by Washington State University, the Indian Health Service (HIS) has discovered that Native American communities suffer from various health disparities. This, among other factors, can be attributed to the severe lack of Native physicians and other health care professionals. 

Having local medical practitioners who have the knowledge and sensitivity towards traditions can substantially improve healthcare delivery within these communities. 

This creates the critical need for projects such as RISE to fill education and employment gaps for Native Americans within the health sector. 

The collaborative project has gained support from multiple channels such as a five-year grant of nearly US$1 million from the Indian Health Service’s Indians Into Medicine Programme, and the same quantum in financial and in-kind contributions from project partners. 


The project will expand on earlier initiatives such as Oregon Health and Science University’s Wy’east Post-Baccalaureate Pathway, a 10-month programme to support members of federally recognised tribes by providing a pathway to improve their academic skills and ensure they are enrolled into medical school. 

RISE will add to this initiative by collectively admitting 18 students to the pathway. The students will receive conditional acceptance from the three participating medical schools upon successful completion of the Wy’east Pathway. 

The project has the potential to increase the total number of Natives enrolled in American medical schools by about 40 percent. This is provided that all 18 project students proceed to pursue their studies in medicine. 

This will mark a substantial jump in the demographics of Natives in the medical sector as previous statistics point at approximately 0.4 percent of Native American physicians in the US and only 44 out of 21,863 currently enrolled medical students identified as Native American.  

The RISE project will also involve six-week summer enrichment programmes in biomedical sciences and MCAT exam preparation for undergraduate or recently graduated Native American students who aim to attend medical school. 

Additionally, project partners will also expand the existing Pacific Northwest American Indian/Alaska Native Medical School Applicant Workshop which will also help Native students to prepare to apply for medical school. 

Other encouraging efforts by the project include targeted digital and social media outreach campaigns and hands-on health profession enrichment activities will motivate Native youth and adolescents to pursue a career path in medicine and health care. 

Native youth can text the keyword HEALER to 97779 to receive weekly text messages that include role-model videos, resources and more to help them take their first steps to become a healer in their community.