Skip to main content

Sen. Carlyle Begay Is Turning Tide Against Chronic Diseases in Indian Country at the Policy Level

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Carlyle Begay, the youngest state senator in Arizona, represents a district that includes eight tribes and Arizona’s Navajo Nation.

He wanted to become a doctor to tackle disparities afflicting his people, but what started as a path to medicine detoured to health policy, then health care and now public office.

“I am where I am today because of the many doors that were opened.” Begay points to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Minority Medical Education Program (MMEP) as one of those decisive doors.

A Series of Open Doors, Veering Paths

Begay’s passion for healthcare was stoked at an early age. His grandfather, who inspired Begay’s path, would always emphasize the importance of education. “He would always tell me that my generation and future generations are the future of our people.”

In 2001, Begay was accepted to MMEP, which operated the six-week program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and was the predecessor to the program now known as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP).

The MMEP experience was an important touchstone. Improving health care in his community became Begay’s mission, and after his summer at MMEP, he decided to gain as much experience as he could before entering medical school.

During his senior year, he won the coveted Barbara Jordan Health Policy Fellowship, which placed him in the Washington, DC, office of Congresswoman Donna Christensen. There Begay began to connect his passions for health care to the power of health policy.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

His first assignment was to draft talking points for a speech Christensen was giving on Medicare modernization. The congresswoman wound up integrating all of his talking points into her speech.

From there, more doors opened: Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Winter Institute; the Harvard School of Public Health; and new opportunities to be mentored and give mentoring focused on quality health care for the underserved and educational programs advancing technology, math, and science for American Indian school kids.

It became clear that Begay’s path to medicine was veering in a different direction.

Led by Passion + Commitment to Serve

Begay bypassed medical school and went into business development focused on American Indian Health Management, a venture that harnesses the resources of tribes, Medicaid, Medicare, and Indian Health Services to expand delivery and maximize the impact of private and public sector health delivery.

RELATED: A Wound as Small as a Dime: Improper Care Can Lead to Death in Diabetics

His focus on health, education, and public service did not go unnoticed. When State Senator Jack Johnson resigned from his seat in July 2013, Begay was tapped as the successor. His appointment made him the only American Indian to hold that position.

To young people seeking careers in health, he advises: “Whether its medical school, dentistry, nursing school, or elective office, create your own path and push forward using multiple points of entry.”