Have you ever thought about becoming a doctor? That’s the question more and more Native American and rural Oklahoma high school students are asking as America’s first tribally affiliated medical school is becoming a reality in northeastern Oklahoma. The innovative new medical school, located in Tahlequah, will offer native and non-native students interested in rural health a unique opportunity to pursue an outstanding medical education from a nationally recognized medical school that celebrates Oklahoma’s rich Native American heritage.

Rural Oklahoma and Indian Country are at the heart of a national crisis – a severe shortage of primary care physicians. This new tribally affiliated medical school, an extension of the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OSU Medicine) in Tulsa, will train 50 new doctors for rural Oklahoma each year. Many of those new physicians will be Native Americans committed to helping combat the physician shortage by serving in their hometowns.

The mission at OSU Medicine is to train primary care physicians for rural and underserved Oklahoma. The Chickasaw Nation mission, to enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people – certainly includes our health and well-being. To fulfill our joint missions, we must attract potential doctors to our school, train those physician candidates in a superior medical school program and return those new doctors to rural Oklahoma.

Where will we find these new physicians? OSU Medicine has a successful rural physician pipeline model that starts with engaging rural high school students and culminates with training residents in rural communities. OSU Medicine goes into these high schools via a variety of innovative programs and asks outstanding science, technology and math students if they have ever thought about becoming a physician. OSU Medicine will ask this question to Ada students in June during Operation Orange, when OSU medical school faculty and students travel to Ada to offer a day-long, hands-on medical school camp. High school students participating in Operation Orange experience a day as a medical student. They hold a real human heart, learn CPR from a simulated manikin, race tying suture surgical knots, see how mechanical lungs work and much more. After a day of medical camp, students often consider a career in medicine and health care.

One of OSU Medicine’s most successful high school recruitment programs is called “Blue Coat to White Coat.” The program reaches out to FFA students, who wear the iconic blue jackets, to ask them the question about becoming a physician. Most students we talked to never considered the idea of medical school before OSU Medicine raised the question. Today, many are exchanging their blue jacket for the white coat of a medical student. In addition, OSU Medicine offers a 3+1 Admissions Program – a fast track to medical school that enables qualified rising college seniors to begin their medical education in the final year of their undergraduate college career.

In July 2018, the Chickasaw Nation and OSU Medicine partnered to establish a family medicine residency training program at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada. Having a residency program in Ada gives rural-minded medical students the opportunity to return to a rural community to complete their physician training.

Where will the Chickasaw Nation find the next generation of doctors to care for its people? We hope to find many of them right here in the Chickasaw Nation.