More than 30 high school students from Grants, Tohajiilee, Acoma, Laguna and Thoreau recently visited high-tech University of New Mexico labs and sat with traditional healers in order to learn how traditional and western medicine can collaborate to create better health. 

The day’s events were part of “Following the Healing Ways,” a workshop sponsored by the Native Health Initiative, a University of New Mexico student organization that aims to address health inequities. 

“We want to inspire youth to think of themselves as future college students, future health professionals and community leaders,” said workshop organizer Lisa Antonio, Native Health Initiative coordinator and a third-year UNM medical student. Students heard from Antonio and other UNM staffers - including representatives from the Health Sciences Center's Diversity Program - on what to expect when applying to UNM and what additional resources students can tap into once they are on campus.

“We hope the workshop served as a catalyst, helping students to see their potential as leaders and as healers,” she said.

The group's visit included a stop at a curanderismo class, led by Eliseo Torres, University of New Mexico vice president for student affairs and an expert on traditional folk healing. Students also got a look at UNM Health Sciences Center's "BATCAVE" medical simulation lab, as well as hands-on interactive tour of some of the busiest departments at UNM Hospital. 

Family and Community Medicine Assistant Professor Dr. Anthony Fleg later talked with the group about one of the most common chronic illness today – heart disease. Students joined traditional healers, family friends, public health workers, health educators and clinicians to hear how each of those groups would focus on cardiac care.

“We really wanted to show students the importance of teams and how each can work together,” said Fleg.

Traditional healers, he said, might look toward family strife in attempting to diagnose and treat a heart condition, while health workers might develop a research project and educators might attempt to work with patients and families to manage a heart condition.

“My dream job is to be a trauma surgeon and I can’t wait to come back to the BATCAVE in four years as a student,”  one student wrote as part of an assignment describing the day's events. 

“It inspired me to learn more about traditional healing methods so I’ll be a better doctor”  another wrote after attending the curanderismo class.  

Co-sponsors of the workshop included the UNM Men of Color Initiative, HSC Office of Diversity, UNM's BA/MD Program, American Indian Student Services and the UNM Curandismo Class. Other partners include Kalpulli Izkalli, the Committee of Interns and Residents, NMSU at Grants and Einstein’s Bagels.

The Native Health Initiative aims to address health inequities through loving service and currently have partnerships with more than 350 entities in New Mexico and Arizona. The Native Health Initiative has many programs for youth, including project grants and a mentoring program called Healers of Tomorrow that is aimed at supporting youth interested in health careers. The deadline to apply for the 2014-15 program is Sept 15.  Find information on their website at www.lovingservice.us