Things That Matter

The First Ever Tribally-Associated Medical School Opened On Cherokee Lands

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In this unprecedented year that has pushed the boundaries of the healthcare industry past its breaking point, a new kind of medical school is making history. A medical school that caters to Indigenous American medical students.

The school is called Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation (COMCN), and it will be the first tribally-associated medical school in the U.S.

Largely the brainchild of former principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Bill John Baker, the project aims to combine the practices of traditional healing practice of the Cherokee people with Western medical teachings.

Bill John Baker’s original goal was to invest money into the Cherokee Nation medical system. His fundraising efforts drew the attention of Oklahoma State University, who approached the then-principal Chief with the idea of opening up a medical school on reservation lands. To him, the decision was a no-brainer.

“After we were removed from tribal lands and there were no teachers, we invested our treasury into teachers. This is a natural progression. Just as our ancestors grew their own teachers 150 years ago, we want to grow our own doctors,” Bill John Baker told Medscape.

As recent reports have detailed, Indigenous communities are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the CDC, Indigenous Americans are testing positive for COVID-19 at 3.5 times the rate of white Americans. This is largely due to lingering historical inequities and structural failings that negatively impact the overall health of Indigenous Americans.

One of the solutions to this institutional failing is to recruit and train more doctors of color–in this case, more Indigenous American doctors. As of now, 0.4% of doctors in the U.S. identify themselves as being American Indian or Alaska Native.

Since COMCN is a state school, non-Indigenous students are welcome to study at the school as well. According to the university’s states, 22% of its students identify as Native American, while they make up less than 1% of the U.S. population.

The devastation that COVID-19 has wrought globally has spurred an uptick in medical school applications.

In what has been dubbed the “Fauci Effect”, the number of potential students applying to medical school is up 18% this year from last year. It seems that this global health crisis has sparked a desire in certain people dedicate their lives to medicine.

So COMCN couldn’t come at a better time. America needs more Indigenous doctors and COMCN is here to teach them.

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