OKLAHOMA A state of the art medical facility, clinics, pharmacies,
wellness centers and nutrition training are just some of the ways
the Chickasaw Nation is addressing the health care needs of its
citizens. But these opportunities also provide inspiration for Native
Americans to pursue an education in medicine and related fields.
The Association of American Medical Colleges recently reported
that one of the most pressing health care challenges facing the
country is the critical need for more minority physicians.
In the next 15 years, the US is projected to confront an overall
shortage of physicians, but the need is, and will continue to be,
particularly great for minority physicians.
Today, African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians together
make up 25 percent of the United States population. However, only
6 percent of practicing doctors come from these groups.
Some progress is being made, as seen in Association of American
Medical Colleges reports that show 12 percent of students graduating
from a United States medical school are African American, Hispanic
or Native American - and 15 percent of medical school applications
are from these groups.
With opportunities in scholarship programs, internships, mentorships,
and education, the Chickasaw Nation is doing its part to help increase
For one Chickasaw doctor, returning to serve Native Americans
is a calling she says is important for her and for the Native community.
Mahate Parker, a graduate of the University of North Dakota
School of Medicine, is currently finishing her residency program
in Obstetrics/Gynecology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences
Center in Tulsa. Once her residency program concludes in July 2014,
she plans to "come back to Ada" to begin her practice as an OB/GYN
physician at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center.
"When I see a patient in the clinic here, in Tulsa, who is
Native American, I feel that I can relate to them more," Parker
"The fact that I am Chickasaw I think makes for a better
physician/patient relationship and really helps them because they
feel more comfortable."
Parker said when she sees statistics like the percentage of
American Indians physicians in the United States in 2004 was just
0.3 percent - or 2,457; she is inspired to encourage other Native
Americans to pursue medicine.
"When I see a young person who shows some interest in being
a doctor one day, I encourage them to get their feet wet by taking
part in summer programs or shadowing someone in the field," she
"When we encourage them to pursue an education in medicine
and then know that they are supported by the tribe through scholarships
or other opportunities, I think we can turn those numbers around."
Parker said she received the Indian Health Services Scholarship
(for more information on this scholarship, visit www.ihs.gov/scholarship)
to initially go to college. The scholarship is for students interested
in biology or chemistry with intent to be pre-med majors.
When she decided go to medical school, she was offered a scholarship
from the Chickasaw Foundation but said she decided to accept the
same scholarship she received as an undergraduate to cover medical
school costs. She said she didn't want the foundation to pay for
her medical school, and it would allow another Chickasaw student
to get a scholarship. She also said the scholarship she accepted
required her to complete a "four year payback" at a Native American
facility. Parker said she knew then she wanted her "payback" time
to be spent at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center.
"My mom is a nurse, my grandfather was a hospital administrator
and my uncle is an emergency room physician, so I was always around
medicine. At an early age I had decided what I wanted to do,"
said Parker, whose mother, Judy Goforth Parker, PhD, APRN CNP,
is now administrator of the Chickasaw Nation Division of Health.
She said at one point she thought about veterinary medicine,
but soon decided to attend medical school.
For patients to see not just a Native American physician, but
also a woman, makes her a role model especially for girls.
"There have been a couple of instances where girls will see
me and voice an interest in medicine," she said.
"I always encourage them and let them know that if they are
willing to work hard, they can become a doctor one day."
For Parker today, her goal is to deliver healthy babies.
"It is very fulfilling to see someone who may have severe
pain or other problems through a safe pregnancy," she
"When I work with high risk patients, I see them for a long
time so it is really rewarding when you see them deliver a healthy
For now, Parker said she is looking forward to finishing her
last year of residency and then coming to Ada.
"I am very excited about the facility in Ada, I know there
are excellent physicians there that will allow me to continue to
learn, and will give me the time and opportunity to repay everything
the scholarship program and the tribe have done for me."
Parker said she knows she is doing exactly what she is supposed
to be doing in life.
"I want to provide good care for Chickasaws and other Native
Americans," she said