Coming in 2020: The First-Ever Tribally Affiliated Medical School in America

A new partnership will revolutionize healthcare and higher education for indigenous peoples.

The Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma State University (OSU) have inked an historic partnership. The OSU Center for Health Sciences will establish the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation, the first-ever tribally affiliated medical school in the United States. It’s slated to open in 2020.

OSU and Cherokee Nation officials will formally announce the partnership on October 31 at 11 a.m. in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, revealing details about the school, its curriculum, its mission and more. The event will take place at the Cherokee National Peace Pavilion.

OSU currently offers a residency program at at the tribe’s W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah. And the university has a track record for encouraging Native students to pursue degrees in science and medicine. Recently, about 40 Native American high school students handled human bones and organs during a field trip to OSU. The visiting youth were taken on a tour of the skeletal system by Chickasaw and Choctaw first-year medical student Brandon Postoak.

Native mentors are vital to recruitment and mentorship, stressed Kent Smith, a Comanche and Chickasaw paleontologist and anatomy professor at OSU. “We’re the overlooked minority, but the largest one in Oklahoma at 12 percent,” Smith told The Oklahoman. Smith also serves as the associate dean in the Office for the Advancement of American Indians in Medicine and Science at OSU’s Center for Health Sciences, and he heads the Native Explorers program to introduce Native students to science.

OSU-OKC President Brad Williams, a member of the Choctaw Nation, encourages students to think about “your talents and skills, and how can you use the gifts you have for the greater good,” reported the newspaper.

“We have a keen interest in all of you,” Tom Anderson, the Cherokee executive director of the Association of American Indian Physicians, told The Oklahoman. “You have an inherit responsibility as a tribal citizen to make the world better for those coming after you. Remember your heritage and your culture.”

Now the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation will make that opportunity even more attractive and accessible for tribal citizens. Enrollment will be open to Native and non-Native students, but the Cherokee Nation hopes many graduates stay local to practice.