North Carolina Program Sends Medical Students to American Indian Families To Teach Health Awareness
More than two dozen medical students from around the world on Sunday concluded their participation in the Native Health Initiative program, in which they planned wellness centers, worked in American Indian hospices and undertook other efforts to address American Indian health issues, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
The five-week program began in 2005 and has expanded from 10 volunteers to 26 this year. Five tribes participated this year, up from only one during the program's first year. Most of the participating medical students spend the summer living with American Indian families to learn about their culture and what makes American Indians more susceptible to certain diseases. The students teach the families about proper nutrition, exercise and disease prevention. The program is the "only one in the country that engages medical students in [American] Indian communities rather than simply cycling students through clinics" in order to "forge a connection" between American Indians and conventional physicians, according to the News & Observer.
According to Anthony Fleg, who founded the initiative, North Carolina is home to the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi, and many of the state's tribes are not recognized by the government, which limits their access to public resources. Fleg said, "American Indians live sicker and they die younger. It's unjust," adding, "But in the eyes of many folks, American Indians are not even on the radar."
Canadian medical student Leah Genge said, "The barriers are not as obvious as you think they are. Services can be available, but if we're not culturally sensitive, then they might as well not be there" (Collins, Raleigh News & Observer, 8/6).