Growth of WSU’s Native American Health Sciences includes new certificate program

Naomi Bender

When Naomi Bender first arrived at Washington State University Health Sciences there were two programs serving Native American students. They were successful, long-standing programs, but Bender thought WSU had the capacity to do more. 

And it did. 

Now, nearly five years later, there are 13 pathway programs for Native American students at WSU Health Sciences, some developed and run collaboratively with the colleges of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and veterinary medicine. There’s a Center for Native American Health where Indigenous students can find fellowship and mentorship, and where all students enrolled at WSU can participate in Native-focused healthcare simulations.

Next, WSU’s Native American Health Sciences is introducing the Indigenous Healing Perspectives Certificate to educate health care providers and others on how to better serve Indigenous communities. 

Bender, director of Native American Health Sciences at WSU, said retention of healthcare providers has long been an issue in tribal communities. 

“That told me we need to better educate and inform healthcare workers about working with tribal communities, so this certificate became a priority,” she said.  

But the certificate offers more than just healthcare perspectives, making it suitable for anyone who works in or supports tribal communities, she added. 

The four courses cover Native American history, especially as it pertains to health and healing; Native American health policy, law and advocacy; Native American health trends; and Native American health perspectives. All courses are taught by Indigenous health leaders and educators.

The nine‑month certificate program is all online, with some sessions recorded and others offered via Zoom.

Jerry Crowshoe, assistant director of Native American Health Sciences at WSU, said the certificate will help participants better understand their Indigenous patients or clients. 

“If you want to create trust and build rapport, part of that is understanding someone,” he said. “And this is really important work; we’re talking about people’s lives and health.” 

When Bender arrived at WSU in the fall of 2018, there were 35 Native students enrolled in WSU’s health sciences programs, she said. There now are 54.

She credits a coordinated effort by WSU’s health sciences colleges and Native American Health Sciences for that progress.  

But, “there’s a lot of work left to be done,” she noted. 

Her goal, she said, is to make sure every student at WSU Health Sciences gets some experience in serving Indigenous patients or communities before they graduate. She also wants to raise funds to offset or cover the cost of a healthcare education for Native students at WSU. 

“WSU is honoring its commitment to tribes and tribal health” through the work of the Native American Health Sciences program, Bender said. “We owe it to our Native and non-Native students alike to help them serve tribal communities, and to give those communities a better chance at healthier outcomes through more culturally humble, knowledgeable, and skilled professionals.” 

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