WSU joins national effort supporting Native American healthcare students

members of WSU chapter of the association of native american medical students
Members of the WSU chapter of the Association of Native American Medical Students, from left to right: Chantelle Roberts, Lexie Packham, Calysta Bauer, and Amaya Pelagio

Native American students pursuing careers in healthcare will have new opportunities for professional development and collaboration with peers and mentors following the establishment of Washington State University’s chapter of the Association of Native American Medical Students.

The new chapter is based within WSU’s Native American Health Sciences and the Center for Native American Health on the WSU Spokane campus.

“Housing this chapter within Native American Health Sciences — rather than within a college of medicine — honors our existing commitment to support all students regardless of which health profession they choose,” said Naomi Bender, a member of the Indigenous Quechua people of Peru who serves as the chapter’s faculty advisor and director of Native American Health Sciences at WSU as well as leading the Center for Native American Health.

Lacking a strong sense of community can leave Native and Indigenous students feeling isolated and unsure of where to turn for career and financial support, explained Calysta Bauer, a second year medical student and member of the Bitter Water (Todích’íí’nii) clan of the Navajo Nation.

“Growing up, I didn’t know any Native American healthcare professionals and I didn’t know how to connect with them or the national organizations working on the issues facing Native populations,” Bauer said. “Having this chapter helps to create a space where I’ll feel comfortable with my identity as a Navajo woman pursuing medicine, and provides others the chance to share their fears and talk about how those fears are rooted in history and culture as we look to process and support one another.”

Bauer added, “It’s exciting to have this opportunity to connect and grow our community.”

Seeing how beneficial cultural connections can be to facilitating better health outcomes for Native patients led Bauer to the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Human Medicine at WSU. It’s a mission she says keeps her on track toward becoming a medical doctor that will help remove barriers to care and empower the next generation of Native students to pursue careers in healthcare.

Lexie Packham, a third-year medical student and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, is hopeful that having an ANAMS chapter at WSU will prompt non-Native students to consider healthcare inequalities facing Native patients.

“Many students have strong interest in equality in healthcare, and Native American healthcare is a big part of that,” Packham said. “A lot of our classmates ask questions about Native American health topics I don’t feel like I’m an expert in, so having a group where informed discussions can happen with Native and non-Native students participating will benefit all of us.”

Packham currently serves as president of the ANAMS chapter at WSU, with Bauer set to take over the chapter next academic year. The pair are working alongside their fellow chapter members to recruit fellow healthcare professionals-in-training and are preparing for an event in the spring where their fellow student can learn more about what Native American healthcare looks like.

“As healthcare professionals, we have a slate of things want to do to educate ourselves and others, while also bringing in the fun and culture of Native traditions,” Packham said.

Chapter members also plan to host a journal club where members can present and discuss articles related to indigenous healthcare, present case studies and larger academic inquiries into existing disparities among patients.

Alec Calac, a public health MD-PhD candidate at the University of California — San Diego who leads the Association of Native American Medical Students, said the organization was impressed by the application put forward by the WSU students and faculty.

“They clearly demonstrated existing institutional support for their efforts, particularly through Native American Health Sciences, as well as with surrounding Tribal partners,” Calac said. “We look forward to this new chapter collaborating with our long-standing chapter at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.”

Membership in ANAMS provides students with opportunities to attend national conferences and participate in professional development, Calac said. ANAMS boasts more than two dozen chapters across the United States.

For more information on Native American Health Sciences and the Center for Native American Health, visit the program’s website.  

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