The University of New Mexico Health
Sciences Center recently graduated a record 39 American Indians
in the health professions.
proud UNM graduates on May 6 were, from left, Yvette Brown,
MD; Olivia McLendon, BA; Kendall Brown, MSN; Dana Wilson,
Pharm. D.; Elaine Garrett, BSDH; Raelynn Benally, BSN; Glynna
Stump, BSN; Armanda Herrera, BSN; Travis Townsend, MD; Shawndell
Bowers, BSDH; Kenna Sheak, MD; Sophia Barker, Pharm. D.; Micah
Clark, MS; Sima Manavi, MD; and Lisa Antonio, MD. Tassy Parker,
PhD, RN, Director CNAH-IIKD, is on the far right.
Clark, who graduated with a master's degree in Health Education,
is the program's Student Navigator. American Indian high schoolers
and families interested in the University of New Mexico's
opportunities in medicine should contact her at 505-272-9873.
"We could almost open our own hospital!" quips Tassy Parker,
Seneca, who holds several positions at the university, including
director of the Center
for Native American Health. Established as part of the Health
Sciences Center in 2002, the CNAH partners with New Mexico's 22
tribes around health issues, addresses health disparities and runs
a student recruitment and retention program.
The May 2015 graduates included 9 MDs, 17 nurses, 4 doctors
of pharmacy, 2 physician assistants, 2 dental hygienists, 2 physician's
assistants, a master of public health and a master of health education.
Three students earned bachelor's degrees in medical labs.
One of the signature programs at the CNAH is student development.
"We make lots of visits to really remote areas to talk to students
about opportunities here at the university," says Parker.
Families are welcome at CNAH presentations. "We often ask the
families to come so they can understand what the process is, how
long their children will be gone from the community, how do they
know that they will be OK? We try to get the families engaged as
much as possible because we know that part of the success of our
students depends on the support of their families and communities."
Other programs at the university also recruit American Indian
students into the medical field. The New Mexico legislature funds
a BA/MD program
in collaboration with the UNM College of Arts and Sciences and the
UNM School of Medicine. Students apply in their senior year of high
school and if they are accepted they join a cohort of about 25 students.
They stay together for four years of college, then take the entrance
exam for medical school. If they get high enough scores, they are
automatically admitted to the UNM School of Medicine, Parker explains.
K. Sheak, MD, Creek/Cherokee, is currently a resident in the
pediatric program at the University of New Mexico.
Kenna Sheak, Creek/Cherokee, was a beneficiary of that program.
She was born and went to school in Grants, New Mexico, then started
college at UNM and has pretty much stayed there, she says. Sheak
just began her residency in pediatrics at the university's School
Sheak describes another key advantage offered to American Indian
students through the CNAH. The Dr. Ervin Lewis Native
American Student Center is a gathering place for students and
a resource room. Sheak says the group who frequents the center "is
very welcoming and open. It was really nice that there was a community
already set up and you had people you could go talk to. If you needed
help there were people who could help. Or commiserate with you if
you were having a hard time." The center has books and reference
materials, computers, printers and a phone for students to use,
as well as a refrigerator, microwave and sink for breaks.
"Because there are so few Native American students here I don't
think we would find each other if it weren't for the student center.
Our schedules are different and we are in different classes and
different programs," Dana Wilson, who just graduated with a doctorate
in pharmacy, says. "It was helpful to know there were other Native
American students around going through the same thing that you were
Another function of the CNAH is to help students find ways to
pay for medical school. "We have a number of options," says Parker,
including "financial aid available through the federal government
and tribal funding streams. The university itself can also provide
Manavi, MD, Navajo/Irani, graduated from Farmington (New Mexico)
High School in 2007 and went directly to medical school. She
has just started her residency in San Francisco. (She can
see the Golden Gate Bridge from her front door.)
IHS Indians Into Medicine grants have been available for the
past four years. The current grant period has ended, but Parker
says she hopes IHS will be able to add another IIM program to the
three it already has.
"We don't know how soon that might happen," she says. "But even
with loss of that program, we can leverage the resources that we
currently have here at the CNAH, as well as across campus. Also
we have some private sector funders who earmark their contributions
for American Indians going into the health professions."
Adequate financial aid is critical to student success, says
Sima Manavi, Navajo/Irani, who graduated with an MD in May and is
now doing her residency at the California Pacific Medical Center.
"The hardest thing in college [for some students] is not being able
to focus on school because they have a lot of financial struggles.
Having the money to go to school is especially important if you
want to go to medical school because it's not easy.
"I went to college basically for free," she says, "because I
applied for so many scholarships. I focused on scholarships available
for Native American students, particularly Navajo students, such
as businesses on the reservation and the Navajo tribal government."
Students need to actively seek and apply for opportunities available
to them. "The biggest thing that Native American students who are
pursuing higher education is to realize that there are resources
out there for every aspect of their career, they just need to look
for them," Manavi says.
Parkers says the CNAH owes its success to the support of UNM
Health Sciences Center Chancellor Paul Roth, MD, MS, and to the
Health Sciences Center Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Leslie Morrison, MD. Morrison "has been an unwavering source of
support for our student development initiative," says Parker.
for Native American Health
The Center for Native American Health aims to be New Mexico's best
practice for Native American health workforce creation, health equity
promotion, healthy communities support and development.