Careers in Medicine

IHS0265sm_2 “There could not be a more exciting time to go into medicine,” declares Everett Rhoades, Kiowa, MD. I can’t think of any branch of medicine that isn't in the midst of some dynamic and exciting change. And these marvelous advances are going to continue for the next generations or so.

“I don’t know many professions that offer such potential for an individual to do almost anything he or she wants to do. There are opportunities to teach, to directly take care of sick folks, to do research, to be involved in policy, and to be an administrator. The opportunities are greater than they’ve ever been.

“I personally don’t know anyone in healthcare who is unemployed, except by choice. Whatever the world is going to be in 20 or 50 years, one can’t go wrong going into some field of healthcare.”

Why are American Indian and Native Alaskan physicians needed?

“Everything else being equal, the average Indian patient is better served by an Indian healer,” asserts Rhoades. Dr. Erik Brodt’s encounter with a Chippewa elder beautifully illustrates the reasons this is true. Dr. Joy Dorscher asserts, “Physicians who understand the concerns and customs of a community are best able to address the health disparities that exist in the health of American Indian people.”

Not surprisingly, when minority patients have the opportunity to select a healthcare professional, they are likely to choose a health professional of their own racial and ethnic background. They are also more likely to be satisfied with the care that this professional provides. In addition, minority physicians are more likely to treat minority and indigent patients and to practice in underserved communities.

Although Native physicians provide culturally sensitive, high-quality care to Native people, Rhoades argues that Indian graduates should be free to choose where they want to work, “Indian physicians have a rich heritage that is needed not only by Indian people but by the population at large. In the Indian perspective, people are brothers and sisters to each other and to all living things, including plants and animals. There is a mystical perspective, which I regard as just as real as anything non-mystical. There is an intense religiosity that pervades daily Indian lives, even though it isn’t what it was a generation or two ago.

“Increasing the proportion of Indian people in the healing arts is a way of preserving the heritage that the rest of the country needs," Rhoades continues. "It would enrich the whole field of medicine. Indian people with all that is embodied in them bring to the table a perspective that the rest of the country needs desperately.”

More American Indian and Alaskan Native Physicians are Needed

In 1971 when Dr. Rhoades and his colleagues established the Association of American Indian Physicians, there were only 14 American Indian physicians. Today there are many more American Indian and Alaskan Native physicians. But more are still needed.

UPDATE

See the Associated Press article
“Native-American doctors blend modern care, medicine men,” by Felicia Fonseca and Heather Clark (4/22/10).

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This article was originally published in the Winter 2006 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist, Roxanne Chinook, is a tribal member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon. "My art emulates a personal and cultural experience, from the spirit of the trickster to healing from the traumas of my past." For more conformation, contact American Indian Art from the Pacific Northwest.