COVID-19 impact: More Native students asking how to get into medical school

Indian Country Today

There is a need for physicians who can take care of the lungs and also physicians who know how to tone down the immune system when it causes body inflammation

Indian Country Today

Imagine being a first year doctor and finding yourself treating patients in a global pandemic. How has medical school prepared doctors for a situation like this? 

Dr. Walt Hollow, Assiniboine and Yankton Sioux, is an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He's also the president of the Association of American Indian Physicians. Through the years, he's mentored and taught hundreds of Native medical students who are now physicians. He was also the first Native to graduate from the UWA medical school. 

Here are some of his comments on medical care in a pandemic:

“As I look back (on medical school), it was scary. We had a huge class of 212 medical students and I was the only Indian in the class. And also lonely because there were no other Indians that were around.”

“I'm sure it would have been frightening. I know that when the pandemic hit here, our medical school made a decision to not let medical students see patients when they were out on the wards.”

“It was to conserve PPEs and face masks so that they could be utilized by the intern or resident or the attending physician, who were actually seeing and managing a sick patient.”

“We anticipate that we will let them back to see patients in the fall. 

“Public health issues are taught in the medical school.”

“There's usually theoretical cases that medical students work on. For instance, the case that I had when I was a medical student had to do with food poisoning at a traditional Indian marriage.”

“That was a good learning event for me, anyway.”

“With our current pandemic medical students are studying how a virus, like the coronavirus, multiplies and is spread and shed from the person.”

“When you have one person with the virus, one person who is free of the virus, and those two people meet up, you have to be able to track where each of those people go and who they have contact with in order to minimize passage of the virus.”

“That's where quarantining comes into play. So, when you identify an individual with the virus, you quarantine them, so they no longer have contact with anyone. That would limit the spread of the virus.”

“We do not have a vaccine and I hope we have a vaccine by December or January, but that's hopeful thinking.”

“Until we have a vaccine, medical students would be at risk for coming down with the virus if they don't take proper precautions when they do see and examine patients.”

“Most of my students are working in the WWAMI area. The University of Washington is the medical school for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho.”

“Many of those have reservations that are fairly remote. The epidemic hasn't hit several of those reservations, yet, the doctors are waiting for it. They know what's coming, but they haven't experienced a huge surge of patients like we see in many of the urban areas where the virus spreads much more rapidly.”

"So the rates are fairly low at many of the reservations, but we anticipate that that may change at any time.”

“At first thought, it was mainly a respiratory virus and that it would affect mainly the lungs, but we have since found out that it unfortunately affects the immune system of some patients.”

“It makes our immune system attack your own body and that affects other organs than the lungs.”

“If you happen to be one of the patients where your immune system is activated to attack your body, that could affect your liver, your kidneys, your heart, your brain, all of your blood vessels.”

“Well, I think that you need physicians who can take care of the lungs and a situation where you have pneumonia-like illness, but you also need physicians who know how to tone down the immune system when it causes inflammation in the body.”

“We're also seeing physicians that are interested in public health and looking at and studying how a virus like the coronavirus spreads and how it can become a worldwide pandemic and what are the strategies for minimizing that and the effect it has on the world population.”

“We have more Indian students who are talking with our office staff about how to get into medical school.”

“For Indian medical students, I would identify who lives a traditional lifestyle and follows the traditional ways of their tribe. And for those that do, I encourage them to utilize those traditional ways to manage their stress, their anxiety, as they learn about the virus and its bad effects.”

“For instance, the sweat lodge ceremony, normally, it's a communal sweat lodge. So, the person who owns or runs a lodge will invite the community in to participate in a sweat lodge, but we recognize that that's not a healthy thing to do given the pandemic.”

“We have been advising people who have sweat lodges to only do a sweat with their immediate family and not allow the community in until we have a vaccine and we see that the pandemic is improving.”

“I would say that you should wear your face mask if you're leaving your home and possibly use rubber gloves and practice and use PPE.”

“I would (stay home), until there's a vaccine, I don't think any of us are going to be safe.”

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.

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