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South Dakota health summit

More medical professionals needed

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Quite a few American Indians have the desire to become part of the medical profession, yet even more are needed to fill physician positions across the country.

It is the hope of all tribes that some of their members will attend medical school and return to their communities to practice because they have knowledge of the culture and know the people in the community.

Medical care in many of the IHS facilities is dependent on a transient physician corps. Nursing schools run by tribal colleges are now training nurses who will stay in the community.

The Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota has a number of students who spend weeks on reservations taking surveys, learning about cultural habits and getting to know the people. Those students go back to the medical school and exchange the information they learned with other students. Many of those students are non-Indian, some are tribal members from the reservations on which they work, and some will be assigned to work on one of the reservations early in their practice.

The USD medical school and the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen's Health Board recently held a joint summit to discuss a connection that could create a larger network to develop better medical care on the reservations and to also recruit more medical students from those reservations.

''We planned this summit for quite a while. The University of South Dakota wanted to do more networking so they would get maximum participation and to honor the USD medical school graduates,'' said Carol Anne Heart, executive director for AATCHB.

Heart said that most of the graduates were not from the area, so much more work was needed to attract more students from South Dakota, especially from the reservations.

''I proposed to USD to make this an annual event and to also reach out to possible nursing students and teachers and others, and reach out to different groups.

''They are open to meeting every year; they are looking into that possibility. That looks more positive,'' Heart said.

Since 1987, only 11 of the USD medical school graduates have been from a South Dakota tribe, two more came from the Aberdeen Area. In that time period, 27 American Indian students were graduated from the USD medical school.

Lance Monteau, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was the only 2007 graduate. Monteau specializes in internal medicine. Sophie Two Hawk, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and a 1987 USD graduate, is the chief medical officer for the IHS service unit on the Rosebud Reservation.

Lois Crawford, Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, practices medicine in Sisseton. Jennifer Giroux, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, a 1996 USD medical school graduate, is an epidemiologist in an IHS facility in the Albuquerque Area.

Darrell Plumage, Assiniboine from Fort Belknap, a 1995 graduate, serves the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe at the Fort Thompson clinic. Carrie Walker, Creek Nation of Oklahoma, a 1996 graduate of the USD medical school works as an SFIH physician in the Albuquerque Area.

Valerie Farris, Cherokee Nation, a 1998 USD graduate, is the medical officer for the IHS in Oklahoma City. A 2001 USD graduate from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Frank Ammesmaki, is the emergency room physician at the Pine Ridge Service Unit.

Of the remaining physicians who graduated from USD, it is not certain if they are working in their home communities since that information is not listed with the IHS.

This summit was in the planning stages for quite some time, Heart said. And as for additional summits where the AATCHB and the USD medical school meet together, it will take some time to work out the logistics from the USD's position.

''They have to give a lot of thought to what they do, they have to go back and talk about it. When they have that kind of attitude it is usually our perception that, well, maybe they won't,'' Heart said.

But Heart was optimistic that such a summit will again take place.

''They could do a greater recruiting effort for Indian students. They can find out what tribes want and need and attract Indian people for those fields,'' Heart said.