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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington State University launches online certificate program for medical professionals working in Indigenous communities

Bryan Clock Tower glows at dawn on Sep 17, 2016, on WSU's Campus in Pullman.   (TYLER TJOMSLAND/The Spokesman-Review)

Washington State University is launching an online certificate program focused on building trust between tribal communities and medical professionals by creating greater understanding of traditional ways of health and healing.

The Indigenous Healing Perspectives Certificate was developed in partnership with Northwest tribal communities and elders and is taught by regional Indigenous health leaders and educators. The program is part of WSU’s Native American Health Sciences Department, rather than through the Spokane-based medical school.

The online certificate is aimed toward working medical professionals who provide care for tribal communities and need to have the cultural competence to adequately do their job.

Native Americans and Alaska Natives often distrust medical professionals who come in from outside tribal communities because of historic discrimination and genocide perpetuated against their peoples, said Native American Health Sciences Assistant Director Jerry Crowshoe .

This, along with historic disinvestment, have led to large health disparities.

“I’ve worked with tribal communities all across the Lower 48 – helping them develop strategic action plans around suicides, substance abuse, mental health. And a lot of communities trace those disparities back to historical trauma and genocide that they experienced. And so medical professionals need to understand about that impact and how that might affect the patient-medical professional relationship,” he said.

“Coming from a tribal community, we really need people to go into the doctor and get checked up. We want them to take care of their bodies. We want them to have a long and lasting life. We want them to trust the health care profession.”

According to the Indian Health Services, the federal health program for American Indians and Alaska Natives, Indigenous communities in the United States experience a five-and-a-half year lower life expectancy as well as inequalities in health outcomes – especially in the areas of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, unintentional injuries, assault and homicide, intentional self-harm and suicide, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.

A traditional medical school education often leaves doctors less than fully prepared to adequately provide care for Indigenous people, especially those within tribal communities.

“Western models of education rarely provide students with an understanding of how to best support Indigenous patients,” said Naomi Bender, director for Native American Health Sciences at WSU.” This certificate offers anyone, Native or non-Native, working in Indian Country the opportunity to bridge this knowledge gap so they can serve their Indigenous patients and help address the health disparities that can be prevalent in our communities.”

The online program comprises four eight-week courses focused on providing students with an understanding of Native American history, current health practices, research, and trends, as well as increasing their cultural competency.

“We come from a holistic view of health,” Bender said. “Through coursework, we want to help people understand what cultural humility and a sacred place of healing looks like so that health care providers can honor their patients and understand them from the beginning.”

The program is not targeted toward current medical students, though they are encouraged to enroll. Rather, it is geared for medical professionals already in the field such as doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists and others working in any health care-related profession.

Completion of the certificate consists of four courses. These course will teach students respectively on Native American health trends and disparities, local Indigenous history and law, forms of traditional medicine and the mental health and trauma within Indigenous communities.

Each course is conducted over an eight-week period and can be taken individually as well as a unit. The entire program will take approximately nine months to complete.

The online pre-recorded lectures are geared toward busy medical professionals who may need to squeeze in their course work at irregular and odd times.