CNAH Hosts Community-Centered Graduation

In tribal nations, even one health professions graduate can flood the entire community with pride and a collective sense of achievement and hope for healthy futures. For more than five years, the UNM Center for Native American Health (CNAH) has sought to honor that collective achievement through a community-centered graduation ceremony for native students in the health professions.

This year, for the third consecutive year, Molina Healthcare of New Mexico donated $10,000 to the UNM Foundation to support Native American students in the School of Medicine program. The donation helps provide funding for books, medical instruments, lab coats, outreach activities with tribal communities, conferences and more.

“We are excited about the small but steady increase in the numbers of Native American students graduating each year and by the variety of health fields that they are pursuing,” said CNAH Director, Tassy Parker, PhD, RN, (Seneca). “Our students have unique challenges facing them throughout their academic careers. Whether they need help in purchasing books – which can cost as much as $250 each – or funds to return to their community for feast days or ceremony, we believe it is critical to support their needs so that they have a successful educational experience while maintaining their community and cultural ties.”

“Molina is proud to provide financial assistance to Native American students through the Center for Native American Health,” said Lynn Allen, president of Molina Healthcare of New Mexico. “By providing this support, we hope to encourage more Native American students to seek careers in health care and then provide medical services in their home communities” “Who better to address the specific needs of a given community than those who are most familiar with the culture and lifestyle of that community?”

This year’s graduation ceremony honored 14 Native American graduates in medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant, nursing, public health, and radiological sciences. More than 100 guests including tribal and state leaders, family, friends, faculty, public and private health care leaders, and other community well-wishers turned out to celebrate the new Native American health professionals.

Each of the students was honored with the presentation of a blanket during the ceremony. A special Graduate Honor Song, composed by Richard Aguilar of San Felipe Pueblo, was also performed.

Governor Walter Dasheno of the Santa Clara Pueblo provided a moving keynote speech that gently reminded the graduates of the core cultural value of reciprocity---to give back by returning to the tribal communities or, if the graduate’s desire is to practice elsewhere, then to give back by mentoring Native students.

“We are very appreciative that an organization like Molina has committed to ongoing financial support for our students,” said Dr. Parker. “We know that to grow a Native American health workforce the size of which would be needed to bring about authentic self-determination in tribal and off-reservation health care, will require a wide circle of advocates and stakeholders to ensure early and sustained academic engagement of Native youth, dedicated financial resources, and a holistic approach to student development that promotes cultural identity and the practice of cultural core values.”

Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322

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