As associate dean of the Office for the Advancement of American Indians in Medicine and Science (OAAIMS), it is my pleasure to announce the recent formation of the AAIMS office.
In 2014, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences launched an effort to recruit more American Indian high school and college students into medicine and science careers. The initiative aims to increase the number of American Indians practicing medicine and working in the science fields through mentoring and targeted programs. Ultimately, efforts made by the OAAIMS will provide Native American students means to be successful in these fields by offering hands-on experiences that combine Native culture, medicine, and science.
According to a report released by Education Week, about 51 percent of American Indian students graduate from high school. Of those who go to college, only about 2.5 percent choose to enter a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field. These are statistics the AAIMS office wants to change. American Indians in Oklahoma represent about nine (9) percent of the population and we want to reach out to as many of them as possible.
Another goal of the AAIMS office is to become the state’s best resource for recruiting and mentoring American Indian students in medicine and science. The office has been reaching out to tribal leaders across the state to develop partnerships and showcase programs available at OSU-CHS, and to learn about tribal programs geared towards medicine and science. The new office supports programs like Native Explorers, Native OKSTARS (co-founded by Nedra Wilson, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and cell biology), Operation Orange and other programs that encourage American Indian students to consider careers in medicine and science.
In 2014, about 24 percent of the medical school summer camp participants were American Indians. Also that year, three second-year medical students, Rafe Coker, Choctaw, Colby Degiacomo, Choctaw, and Linsea Howard, Cherokee, presented four new STEM/mini med camps for students in sixth-12th grades in the Durant area. These programs were sponsored by the Choctaw Nation.
Oklahoma currently ranks 48th in the nation for the number of primary care physicians practicing per 100,000 people. Rural areas of the state and tribal communities are especially struggling with the lack of physicians. Another objective of the AAIMS office is to develop partnerships between OSU and tribal governments with the intent of paving the path to establishing new medical training programs; thereby benefitting Native American students and addressing health care issues within our communities. This office will be a valuable resource for tribes in providing much needed health care to our state’s citizens.
Overall, the Office for the Advancement of American Indians in Medicine and Sciences strives to increase the number of American Indians applying and accepted to medical school and the health care administration, biomedical sciences and forensic sciences graduate programs at OSU-CHS. Having more American Indians in these fields will have a positive impact on all Oklahoma communities. We are conscientious to work with tribes to weave culture and tradition into our training to help meet the health and wellness needs of our state’s Native American population.
Kent Smith, Ph.D.
Associate Dean of the Office for the Advancement of American Indians in Medicine and Science
Professor of Anatomy
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences
Member of the Comanche and Chickasaw Nations