Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WSU Spokane plans to expand Native American health resources with new center, programs

Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane plans to expand its support for Native American students, faculty members and prospective students with a $250,000 grant from the Empire Health Foundation.

The grant will help create the Center for Native American Health, develop programs to prepare students to apply for further education in the health sciences and create an interprofessional curriculum designed to integrate indigenous-based cultural traditions and history with medicine.

Naomi Bender, director of the Native American Health Sciences program, said the center will be on the WSU Spokane campus and will be home to several programs for Native American students, researchers and prospective students interested in studying nursing, pharmacy or medicine.

The center will be in a multipurpose building and will have study areas, a computer lab, a kitchen to prepare traditional meals and a gathering place. There will be a spiritual healing space for students and staff to use, Bender said.

The grant funds also will help start a mentoring program for pre-health sciences students at WSU in Pullman, Eastern Washington University, Spokane Community College and North Idaho College, among other institutions.

“We will have faculty and staff in this area, so there will be support on-hand in terms of mentoring and shadowing experiences with clinics. We have really, really good relationships with local tribes and in their clinics,” Bender said.

The WSU Health Sciences has connections to local tribes including the Spokane, Kalispel and Coeur d’Alene, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. The mentoring program would help students see firsthand what working in different health care settings is like as well as help them apply for health science programs, if they are interested.

The center will serve as a place for application workshops and support for current students as well as a hub for research based in tribal communities.

Bender said the grant funds will help support a faculty member, who will lead the mentoring program as well as develop the interprofessional curriculum.

“It’s co-developed with tribal community partners within and outside of Empire Health Foundation, and our campus and that curriculum will look at indigenous-based healing,” Bender said.

The curriculum would also explore plant- and herbal-based medicines, the history of colonization and epidemics, what health trends exist and how Indian Health Service has changed over time, Bender said. Ideally, a student who finishes the curriculum could receive an interpersonal certification simultaneously with their other courses, and the training would be for not just medical school students but for all students on campus.

“We’re hoping it’s a certification to opt into, and (we) can create a cohort of students through all health disciplines,” Bender said.

Bender stressed the need for the training for all health care providers, noting that tribal members often access health care in rural settings where physicians may not always be present. The curriculum will focus on tribes and traditions in the Pacific Northwest.

“We need to train our physician assistants, nurses, social workers and counselors, because they all have time with our tribal patients,” Bender said.

“It’s a need throughout our health care system and not for physicians alone,” she said.

The Empire Health Foundation grant adds to other funding intended to increase Native American access to health sciences education. The WSU College of Medicine is also a recipient of a five-year grant from IHS that supports programs to help Alaska natives and American Indians prepare to apply for medical school. WSU Health Sciences has several programs for students, and the grant funding will help expand those.

One program, called RISE, is a six-week summer course to help prospective students who are Alaska natives or American Indians prepare their medical school applications and prepare them to take medical college admission exams. WSU will also bring in four students per year to a longer, 10-month program which also helps students prepare to apply for medical school.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Feb. 26 to correct the location of the new Center for Native American Health. It will be housed in a multipurpose building already on the WSU Spokane campus, not in its own separate building.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.