While the year 2020 has been memorable for many unforeseen reasons, it was always going to be historic to the students, faculty and staff of OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation.
The nation’s first tribally affiliated medical school welcomed its inaugural class in late July for orientation and the site’s first White Coat Ceremony.
The 84,000 square foot medical school facility, located on the Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Hospital campus in Tahlequah, will be completed later this year. Until then, students will attend classes, labs and exams in a designated section of the new Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center, and faculty and staff will office out of Hastings Hospital.
During the White Coat Ceremony in Tahlequah, Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of OSU Center for Health Sciences and dean of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, told the students they are making history and fulfilling the dreams of many who worked to cultivate this partnership with the Cherokee Nation.
“A child growing up in northeast Oklahoma no longer has to leave this region to pursue their dream of becoming a doctor. They can attend medical school, complete their residency training and practice medicine all right here in Tahlequah and under the auspices of OSU Medicine and the Cherokee Nation,” Shrum said. “You also represent a beacon of hope for rural and tribal communities throughout Oklahoma that suffer from physician shortages.”
A desire to serve
Like a lot of people who pursue medicine as a career, many in the OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation inaugural class want to become physicians to help people, especially those that need it most.
Jordyn Austin has lived in Oklahoma her entire life and knows Oklahoma has a lot of communities that are underserved in terms of health care.
“I’d like to expand access and be a provider for my fellow Oklahomans and I think OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation can help me achieve my goal,” Austin said. “I also think my beliefs about practicing medicine really align with those of osteopathic medicine in terms of preventative health care and a more holistic approach.”
Kenzie Enmeier has similar aspirations.
“I have a big passion for serving the underserved and underprivileged. And with the Tahlequah site’s emphasis on rural and native communities, I will have the opportunity to fulfill that passion and serve those in the greatest need,” Enmeier said.
Mackenzee Hester always knew she wanted a career that focused on helping people, but it wasn’t until she shadowed a D.O. that she knew medicine was that profession for her.
“I love how with medicine, people put their trust in you in all different stages of their life, from the birth of their new child to caring for their terminal loved one,” Hester said. “I feel passionately about making sure patients from all walks of life have access to the health care they need and look forward to devoting my career to make it possible.”
For others, the reason to become a physician is personal.
McKayla Muse was just 14 when her father had quadruple bypass surgery.
“It definitely rocked my world, but what stood out to me the most was the compassion and care that the health care team gave my family and me. That is when I realized what it meant to be in medicine, and more importantly, a doctor,” Muse said.
It was something similar for Gunnar Phillips.
“I became especially interested in medicine during my father’s battle with cancer, which took place my freshman year at Northeastern State University,” Phillips said. “By both observing and interacting with my father’s doctors, I was inspired to pursue a career in medicine.”
Rural is cool
Going to a brand-new medical school location in a more rural community offers many students a unique opportunity.
Jonas Weygandt was born in Oklahoma but grew up in Colorado. He came back to his home state to pursue in undergraduate degree and now his medical degree.
“I chose to attend OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation because of its unique location in rural Oklahoma. Being here allows me to experience Oklahoma beyond the cities where I was born and where I attended college at the University of Oklahoma,” Weygandt said. “Tahlequah offers me the comforts of my home in Colorado. With lots of opportunities to run, hike and experience the outdoors in my spare time, Tahlequah allows me the outlets I need to have a healthy and well-balanced life while I attend medical school.”
For Joshua West, the new medical school location is ideal.
“The smaller class sizes will be great for building connections with fellow classmates. I believe the pairing of the nationally recognized OSU D.O. program with the new facilities at both OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation and nearby Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center will make Tahlequah a great place to study medicine,” West said. “The city itself is beautiful and is in a great location for students interested in pursuing rural medicine.”
Honoring sacred traditions and starting new ones
Being the first students at a brand-new school is special and an uncommon opportunity, Weygandt said. It’s also a responsibility.
“This school represents so much more than just a new building, classes, faculty and students,” he said. “As the first tribally affiliated medical school located, this school represents a step in the right direction and a commitment to Native American’s and rural Oklahoma’s health and a brighter future for our state.”
“Being a part of the first class at OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation means that I along with my classmates have the opportunity to pave the way for the school’s mission of serving the underserved. We get to be part of something great and get to be the first ones to do it with this community,” she said.
For students of the new class who are also members of an American Indian tribe, attending a tribally affiliated medical school is a special honor.
“As a member of the Cherokee Nation, it means a great deal to me to attend the nation’s very first tribally affiliated medical school. The fact that OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation is located in the capital city of the Cherokee Nation– Tahlequah– just makes the whole experience that much more special to me,” said Phillips, who was awarded a scholarship from the Cherokee Nation and an IHS Health Professions Scholarship.
Hester said receiving two tribal scholarships from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma made her feel more connected to, and supported by, the community.
“I have always been proud of my Choctaw heritage, and attending a tribally affiliated medical school makes me even more excited both about attending OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation and about the future of Native American health,” she said. “With the health disparities that Native Americans currently face, OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation’s mission is so important to not only the community of Tahlequah, but communities across our state.”
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