Northwest Native American Center of Excellence and Wy'east Post Baccalaureate Pathway at Oregon Health & Science University

Date: June 26, 2019
Interviewer: Sarah Ballew, Headwater People
Interviewee: Dr. Erik Brodt (Ojibwe from Minnesota), Director, Northwest Native American Center of Excellence, and Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, OHSU School of Medicine; Founder, We Are Healers

Quick Stats about the Northwest Native American Center of Excellence:
The Northwest Native American Center of Excellence at Oregon Health & Science University seeks to comprehensively and sustainably address the health care needs of all people by increasing Native American voice in the U.S. health professions workforce. Through innovative collaboration between OHSU, the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board and Portland State University, we will meet the following objectives:

  • Recruit, train and retain American Indians and Alaska Natives into health professions
  • Train tomorrow's health professions workforce in American Indian and Alaska Native health issues.
  • Enhance and expand tribal-academic partnerships in education, research, and service.

In OHSU, American Indian and Alaska Native faculty has increased by 219% and AI/AN learners have increased by 290%.

Wy’east Post Baccalaureate pathway is a program for will provide conditional acceptance into the OHSU School of Medicine for students who successfully complete all aspects of the pathway, meet academic standards, and demonstrate professionalism in all aspects of the experience. The Wy’east pathway will admit approximately 10 students each year who will progress through the year as a cohort.

To increase indigenous representation in medical professions.

Key Considerations:
Indigenous representation in health professions is the most underrepresented group and disproportionately so.

There are significant healthcare challenges in our communities. There is a causal relationship with access to safe culturally responsive healthcare and those outcomes being experienced.

For students and faculty who have moved away from their home communities to Oregon, staying physically connected with the places they come from can be a very important piece of their success.

Strengths, Keys for Success:
The Center for Excellence intertwines health and wellness, food sovereignty, and indigenous identity to foster all through coordinated programs. One program has been to use a garden space to grow traditional foods brought by students and scholars from their home territories.

Seeds are planted in the spring and harvested in the fall and tended by students. These are plants grown for millennia and connect students to their people through space and time on the OHSU campus. Students acknowledge these connections and recognize these plants as relatives, speaking with the plants and gaining a sense of grounding amidst the busyness and challenge of school.

These foods are used to teach the community and model how to incorporate traditional foods into everyday life and practice, cultivating learning at the intersection of cultural identity and wellness.

The program has been successful because it is work that that has been envisioned and led by people within the communities for whom the benefit is intended. Having the cultural understanding and experience as a foundation to build programs on is a vital resource.

Barriers and Challenges:
There are misconceptions that Native people are not interested in medicine, science or healthcare. The small and disproportionate representation exacerbates this notion.

Building stable funding partnerships is a challenge. Addressing disparities in representation can be a barrier for those who feel it is prejudice against other people. Support of the issue can shift quickly, as political winds blow, even with data showing that out of 21,600 medical school students, 39 were Native.

Philanthropy is often looking for newer things and not just strong ideas and strong returns on investment.

Primary Funding:
NW Excellence is funded through Health Resources & Services Administration grants, Indian Health Services grants, local foundational funds, supported through core funding, and through the OHSU institution.

The goal is to eventually show proof of concept and partner with an angel investor or tribe. A 2-year annual budget would help to sustain the program in perpetuity.

Insights for others:
Funders and partners need to physically visit and get to know what is happening in these programs. There is can be a lot missed through traditional reporting and there is tremendous innovative work happening in rural areas.

Success depends on being tribally centered and tribally focused. Tribal communities are the beginning and the end.