Opinion: A new day is dawning for Native American medical students

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Calac is a medical student at the University of California, San Diego. He was born and raised in Escondido.

The decennial 2020 United States Census was notable for Indian Country in California, with an almost 100% increase in the number of people identifying as American Indian and native to Alaska alone, or in combination with another racial group, since 2010. At 1 With 4 million people or 3.6% of the state’s population, California has the largest Native American or Indigenous population in the United States, with 109 federally recognized tribal governments.

Sadly, we saw little or no change in the number of Native American medical students in California from 2010 to 2020.

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As a fourth year medical student at UC San Diego School of Medicine, also pursuing a doctorate. in public health at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego, I follow in the footsteps of my father, our tribe’s first physician.

From our side of the family, we are descended from the Pauma Band of the Luiseño Indians, the smallest of the six federally recognized tribes sharing language and cultural practices in San Diego County. We occupy a small fraction of our traditional lands on a reserve provided to us by the federal government at the end of the 19th century. While the word Luiseño was given to our people by the Spaniards in the 18th century due to our proximity to Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, we call ourselves the Payómkawichum or the “People of the West”.

Since medical school is an increasingly isolating experience for Native American medical students, I often wonder why there aren’t more of us? Is it a “pipeline” problem?

Let’s think about it.

According to a Joint report 2019 by the Sacramento Native American Higher Education Collaborative and the Community College Equity Assessment Lab at San Diego State University, Native American boys and girls are suspended and expelled from their K-12 studies at rates much higher than their peers in California. The worst suspension disparity was in college, where Native American boys were suspended at a rate of 16.5% statewide and girls at 9.1%. The worst K-12 deportation disparity was in Kings County, where Native American boys were 40 times more likely to be deported than the state average.

This is clearly a systemic problem.

Education was once used to assimilate and acculturate Native Americans. In San Diego, young Luiseño and Kumeyaay were sent to places like Perris Indian School and St. Anthony Indian School, where they were not taught math, science and the arts, but rather to forget. . Forget who they are. Forget their language. Instead of playgrounds, these “schools” had cemeteries.

This period followed the era of the Spanish mission. I still remember building my people’s cemetery in fourth grade: Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside. I was taught that it was a beautiful place when it was anything but. Our communities have been pushed to the brink of extinction by settlers motivated by greed and empowered by faith.

I have rarely seen Native Americans in my textbooks. I learned a side of the story that was not mine. But despite everything, I knew I was there.

I knew the Native Americans were still there. My ancestors remembered who they were. Our language has not been forgotten.

Native Americans make up less than 1% of all medical students and physicians. They come from communities that bear a much higher burden of disease than their colleagues. Native Americans take pride in who they are and shouldn’t have to change the way they act or dress to advance their medical education.

I think it would serve all of us well if we deconstructed the many assumptions society holds about the modern Native American. Not all tribes have the economic benefit of a casino, not all tribes have equal access to health care, and not all tribes have reservations. What you see on your favorite western is far from accurate.

If you know a tribe, then you only know one tribe. I honestly think there aren’t more Native American medical students and doctors because people assume the worst of where they come from. We should all choose to see cultural strength and resilience rather than hardship, dependency and communities dying rather than living.

In November, UC San Diego hosted a traditional blessing and cover presentation for eight Native American medical students, including myself. There are more students here than at most medical schools in the country. We are currently interviewing for UC San Diego’s Medicine Program: Transforming Indigenous Doctor Education, which trains medical students to better provide health care for Indigenous people, with $ 2.6 million from the state legislature.

A new day is here.

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