The UNM School of Medicine enrolled nine Native Americans this year, though it’s never had more than four per year in the past.

Gayle Dine-Chacon, vice president of the UNM Center for Native American Health, said the increase is unprecedented.

“We are possibly the only school in the nation to have this many Native American students accepted into medical school,” she said.

Other universities near Native American reservations, like those in Oklahoma, Arizona and Kansas have not seen an increase in Native American enrollment, according to spokespersons from each university. The University of Kansas School of Medicine enrollment decreased to just one Native American student for the fall semester.
David Bear, assistant dean of admissions for the UNM School of Medicine, said Native Americans are poorly represented in the medical field. One reason for UNM’s increased enrollment is new recruiting methods from the Office of Admissions and the Office of 
Diversity, he said.

“(Native American) students who did apply often had a number of competing offers, so when we would admit them, they would say ‘thank you but no thank you,’ and go other places,” Bear said. “We have student recruiters now who are from particular ethnic groups who can go into the high schools and colleges and interface with students at their own level.”

Two out of the nine Native American medical students received full tuition scholarships to the UNM School of Medicine. Only five or six full tuition scholarships are awarded per medical school class.

Cheo Torres, vice president of Student Affairs, has authored several works about Native American medicine, including Curandero: A Life in Mexican Folk Healing. Torres said bringing Native American traditions into a Western medicine context can benefit health care as a whole.

“Modern medicine and traditional medicine — they can certainly go hand in hand, and this combination is already happening in our Health Science Center,” he said. “Treatment should depend on what the patient needs.”

He said Native American students at the School Of Medicine will help meet the needs of the surrounding population.

According to the U.S. News and World Report, UNM Hospital is ranked second in the nation for rural medicine.

Dine-Chacon said the Center for Native American Health created a Native American student center six months ago, and it draws Native American students to UNM.
“It’s a place for them to socialize, to network, and to be amongst others that have a similar background,” she said.

Dine-Chacon said the student center also has a computer, printer, books and study areas for Native American students. She said these are important resources since many students have little money to spare while in medical school.
“We provide small funds that may help students if they need things that were un-anticipated, like a stethoscope or materials to present a research project,” she said.

Dine-Chacon said that all of these programs for Native American students should help them throughout their medical careers.