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Empowering Native American communities to eliminate disparity

OHSU receives $3.4 million from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand medical training for tribal citizens, Native American communities
a Native American physician plays hand drum and sings
Arne Vainio, M.D., a family practice physician in Cloquet, Minnesota, closes his presentation with a song at the Indigenous Faculty Forum, November 17, 2017 at the PSU Native American Student and Community Center. The forum is designed to support the professional development and academic success of American Indian/Alaska Native faculty. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Underrepresented minorities are more likely to seek and use health care services when the provider is of a similar ethnic background, studies have shown; however, Oregon is home to more than 70,000 citizens of the American Indian and Alaskan Native tribes, and less than 1 percent of the state’s 11,000 physicians identify as Native American.

"This imbalance is a problem that will continue to jeopardize communities that already face significant health concerns and inequities,” said Erik Brodt, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine, OHSU School of Medicine.  "We aim to change this."

woman resting her chin on her hand and listening to a speaker
Amanda Bruegl, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the OHSU School of Medicine, takes part in the forum. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

That process begins with a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish the Northwest Native American Center of Excellence, a program to increase the Native American voice in the U.S. health professions workforce. NNACOE is currently the only Native American-specific Center of Excellence funded by the U.S. government.

A collaboration between the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, OHSU School of Medicine and Portland State University, NNACOE will focus on recruiting and training American Indian and Alaska Native students to M.D. and P.A. programs at OHSU. Outreach efforts coordinated through the School of Medicine and existing educational pathway programs will begin as early as middle school and continue through faculty development. NNACOE will partner with current programs, such as On Track and BUILD EXITO to provide ongoing social, cultural and educational support for students once enrolled.

“Overall, the goal is to train a diverse health professions workforce that understands -- and can successfully respond to -- the health equity and research needs of their own community,” continued Brodt who also serves as the director of NNACOE. “This program has tribal voice, and tribal engagement, at its core.”


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