In rural Oklahoma, a new medical school is located in the Cherokee Nation, training Nation members to become physicians at Nation clinics.
Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in the Cherokee Nation (COMCN) is the first tribal-associated medical school in the country, and they just had their inaugural class after opening this fall.
Bill John Baker, the former chief chief of the Cherokee Nation, is widely recognized for pushing the project to where it has gone, which even included the decision to sell the Nation’s private jet to help start new investment in a medical system for the Cherokee Nation. , which first brought to the attention of Oklahoma State University (OSU) the idea of opening a medical school on reservation lands.
“After we were taken off tribal lands and there were no teachers, we invested our treasure in teachers,” said Bill John Baker, according to MedScape. “This is a natural progression. Just as our ancestors grew their own teachers 150 years ago, we want to grow our own doctors.
In fact, less than half of 1% of the nation’s physicians are eligible for tribal citizenship, but before developing his own physicians, Bill John Baker renovated Nation’s rural clinics and funded the tribal-owned outpatient facility more big of the country; an impressive 469,000 square foot four story piece of architecture on the campus of WW Hastings Hospital, which offers optometry, audiology, physical rehabilitation, dentistry, behavioral health, radiology, laboratory and pharmacy services.
“The Cherokee Nation is pleased to open this beautiful new facility that allows us to serve more citizens and offer more services than we have ever had before,” said Director Chuck Hoskin Jr. in October at the grand opening.
“This facility is a true game changer that will improve our overall healthcare system and is a great investment in our local economy. It’s a blessing for me to see former Chief Bill John Baker’s vision come true because of what it means to our citizens. “
OSU and the tribes realize
Bill John Baker was still the Chief Executive Officer when OSU approached the Nation with the idea of opening a medical school.
“It was a match made in heaven”, Baker said. “We have been investing in our young people for quite some time, sending them to medical school at Harvard and Stanford and across the country, but when we saw the opportunity to have a medical school right here and not have to send our children abroad, that made perfect sense. “
The Cherokee Nation’s general fund paid $ 40 million for the 84,000-square-foot facility, the construction of which, although delayed until spring 2021 due to the pandemic, is nearing completion. Like the outpatient facilities, the building is striking and will combine modern medicine with traditional healing practices in both service and decoration.
Interior art and decoration will be done by Cherokee artisans, and the building’s landscaping will be exclusively of medicinal plants used by Cherokee healers for generations, such as yarrow, blue indigo, master rattlesnake, echinacea, and elderberry.
While the school is on Cherokee land, the agreement to create it was supported by four other tribal nations: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole. The five tribes are providing funding for scholarships and clinical rotation sites within their tribal clinic systems.
Being a state school, COMCN is not required to train Cherokee or Chickasaw physicians, however 22% of the inaugural school identifies as Native American, whether Cherokee or not.
In an effort to keep them connected to their communities and heritage, COMCN is setting up residency programs at Nation clinics and volunteer programs so they can work and study traditional healing medicine and its benefits.
“We hope that an unwritten curriculum will emerge from the healing practices of the Cherokee people,” said Natasha Bray, DO, associate dean for academic affairs for the school.
The success of these new Cherokee medical facilities means marrying the future to a rich cultural past and could go a long way towards improving the lives of rural Oklahomites, Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw alike.
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