A University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine program,
which was created to encourage Native Americans to pursue higher education
and careers in the healthcare sector, is seeing success so far in
its first year.
Frank, a senior in NAHSP, presented her research on injured
spinal cords at the AISES conference last November. Submitted
photo / The Volante
The Native American Healthcare Scholars Program (NAHSP) provides
mentoring and assistance to students as they work their way toward
and through a medical education. It includes regular access to faculty
and student mentors, two trips to USD and the opportunity to attend
the annual AISES National
"The reason for the program, long story short, is to increase
the number of health care professionals in our Native American communities,
on our reservations," said NAHSP coordinator Kathy VanKley. "Because,
just as the rest of the United States is facing a shortage of healthcare
professionals, it tends to be even worse in our reservation area."
There are currently 15 students enrolled in NAHSP.
Applicants are accepted from Red Cloud Indian School in Pine
Ridge, S.D. and Wagner Community High School in Wagner, S.D. The
next round of applicants will be accepted this March, VanKley said.
Students enter the program in their junior year of high school
and can remain in it all through college if they go to USD.
"If they go somewhere else, we'd like to keep in contact with
them, but we can't offer them what we would be able to offer here
as far as additional services," VanKley said.
Funded through the Office of Minority Health, the program receives
$446,761 per year for five years. VanKley said USD's program could
become a pipeline model that's replicated at other schools. For
this reason, the program is continually undergoing an evaluation
process, she added.
"So after we have events we do evaluations, the students themselves
will do online evaluations, parents will do evaluations throughout
the project to see what things are working, what could work better,"
Marilyn Frank, a senior at Red Cloud High School, is one student
in the program.
As someone who's very interested in science, math, engineering
and healthcare, Frank said she was very happy to be accepted into
"I knew that we'd get kind of exposed to many things and many
people," she said. "So I thought it was really exciting."
Frank has also participated in the Indians into Medicine (INMED)
and was an intern at the National Institute of Health in Maryland
last summer. During her eight-week internship, she did research
on a methodology to visually analyze injured spinal cords. Frank
was able to present her research at the AISES conference in November,
which she said was the experience that impacted her the most since
her acceptance into NAHSP.
"That was very helpful," she said.
VanKley said attending the AISES conference helped the NAHSP
students understand that what they're doing now is preparing them
for their futures.
"For them to go to this conference and see all the positive
things that are happening in the Native world and to be able to
take that motivation home with them, it was just neat," she said.
They did all kinds of things that would help advance them
academically and career-wise, but they also got to see every level
of that professional development from high school students, to being
in college, to being a professional out in whatever field they're
As the INMED program coordinator for South Dakota and North
Dakota, VanKley has worked in schools with Native American populations
for several years.
"I've been all over. I love it," she said. "I've been able to
work with the kids in those schools for quite a long time."
A 'productive relationship'
Laura Fox, a fifth-year M.D./Ph.D. student, has been a NAHSP
mentor since last fall.
Because Fox had already met Connor Richards, the senior from
Red Cloud Indian School she was asked to mentor, she knew he was
a hard worker and asked good questions.
So far, Fox said the relationship has gone very well. The two
communicate via email, text and Facebook messaging, sometimes as
much as every other day.
"It's been wonderful," she said. "I must give him a lot of credit
for using me correctly."
Richards was paired with Fox because he's interested in the
M.D./Ph.D. track. Fox said they've talked a lot about college interviews,
essays and applications so far this year.
"The administrators of the program did a great job setting us
up to have a productive relationship," she said.
Fox is originally from a town 50 miles east of Seattle, which
she said shares a lot of similarities with Pine Ridge. Though she's
not Native American herself, she did grow up near a reservation.
After graduating from a high school with a drop out rate of
64 percent, she got her undergraduate degree at Cornell University.
She chose USD's medical school because of its structure, education
style and its people, she said.
"They're the sweetest people. In my medical school class, my
teachers, professors," she said. "It was a very kind campus, and
that was as attractive as its academic strengths."
One of the reasons Fox believes NAHSP is so important is that
it shows high school students that success is valued and being a
goal-oriented person is something to celebrate.
"(Richards) is so excited to be in an environment like college
where he feels like he's not the strange one for having academic
goals," she said. "And this program gives him the chance to see