New UMD Med School program is a ‘stepping stone’ for Native American students

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The University of Minnesota School of Medicine at Duluth has received a $750,000 grant to launch a new program dedicated to recruiting and supporting Native American medical students in the Upper Midwest.

Funds from the Genentech Innovation Fund will help create and support the operations of the Gateways to Medicine and Research Master of Science program, which will begin in the fall of 2023.

The Genentech Innovation Fund was created in 2019 with the aim of rewarding creative solutions to improve health equity.

The Doctor. Benjamin Clarke, Ph.D., a professor at the medical school and a member of the Grand Portage Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, said the Gateways program has been in the works for three years. He participated in a steering committee chaired by Dr. Pedro Fernandez-Funez.

“If they’re not ready to go into doctoral programs or medical school right away, this program helps prepare them,” Clarke said of the new students. “It’s kind of a stepping stone.”

When reaching out to Native American communities, the number of students interested in medical school is very small, and it gets even smaller when you ask whether students have done any preparatory work for medical school, Clarke said.

With the help of the Gateways program, native-speaking students not only gain experience, but also receive scholarships to cover full tuition, as well as cultural and learning support.

The Gateways program offers two tracks: a one-year track for medical students interested in the health professions and a two-year track for students interested in the biomedical sciences.

“We try to make sure they cover many of the topics they would see in their first and second year of medical school,” Clarke said. “So that if they get into medical school, they’re academically prepared.

The school also wants to help students build their social credentials and give them a chance to gain experience in social work and community service work, Clarke added.

“The Gateways program will give them these opportunities to follow the doctors and come into the clinic to do some volunteer work,” Clarke said. “In addition, they have the chance to build a network with other native students so they can have a community, a comfort zone, which is really important.”

On the biomedical sciences side, the program would be research-focused and geared toward students working on their doctorate. The goal is to train students with skills to study specific health issues that may occur in Native American communities.

Clarke sees the new master’s program as a path to more Native American representation in hospitals, clinics, laboratories and medical schools.

“There are so few native doctors in the clinics and if someone comes to the clinic with any kind of health issue, it would be good to eliminate as many cultural barriers as possible,” he said. “If you walk in and see a familiar face, sometimes that makes things a little bit better, and a lot of times they will be able to understand the situation the person might emerge from.”

That’s why Native American representation is important in the classroom as well, not just in the student section but at the teacher’s podium, Clarke said, adding that the program has the potential to be a conduit for future teachers.

“You want to be able to project a native perspective to all medical students because even the non-native physician will be interacting with native patients and they need to know how to communicate with them,” he said. “They need to know what the cultural issues are and what the challenges might be that a person might face.”

The Duluth campus has been training physicians for 50 years with the goal of serving rural populations, both Native American and non-Native American. Although the campus ranks second in the nation for graduate Native American physicians, many are not from Minnesota, and the Gateway program aims to change that.

The Doctor. Pedro Fernandez-Funez, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and director of the Gateways program, said there is a demand for educational training in rural and native areas.

“Students will have certain experiences, whether it’s in the countryside or in native communities, these are the students who end up going home as they graduate and serve those communities,” said Fernandez-Funez. “It’s not just about giving opportunities to students, but also about serving communities when we train students who come from those areas.”

Fernandez-Funez came to Duluth about seven years ago and recognized the need for a training program geared towards supporting these same students. He was encouraged by the administration to explore the idea and quickly gained support from the faculty as well.

“Genentech got a big win and that really boosted the whole process, because if people outside believe in us, we need to make this a reality,” he said.

In a year or two, he hopes to share the success stories of students who have participated in the program and made the transition to medical school.

“There’s been a lot of support, not just from our school, but from other members of the community,” said Fernandez-Funez. “We’re collaborating with one of the hospitals, we’re starting to collaborate with other regional schools to make sure students know we’re here when they’re ready to transition into med school and I think everyone has been very welcoming and very embracing of what we’re doing. trying to do.”

New UMD Med School program is a ‘stepping stone’ for Native American students

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