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Oklahoma State University opens country's 1st tribally associated medical school in Cherokee Nation

"The symbol of having a medical school in our capital is just so powerful," said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

Oklahoma State University opens country's 1st tribally associated medical school in Cherokee Nation
Cover Image Source: Twitter/CherokeeNation

In a historic "white coat" ceremony in August, 54 Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine students took their first step towards becoming physicians at Cherokee Nation clinics. The brand new medical school located in the Cherokee County city, Tahlequah, is the country's first tribally affiliated college of medicine. According to the university, OSU Medicine and the Cherokee Nation announced the establishment of the 84,000-square-foot medical school building in October 2018 and although the pandemic delayed the construction, it is expected to be finished in December 2020.




"The 54 medical students represent the fulfillment of many dreams over many years; to create a medical school in partnership with the largest tribal nation in the heart of Indian Country," said Kayse Shrum, D.O., OSU-CHS president and OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine dean. "The students can attend medical school, complete their residency training, and practice medicine – all right there in Tahlequah under the auspices of both OSU Medicine and the Cherokee Nation. I can’t think of a better way to attract and train primary care physicians for rural and underserved Oklahoma." The inaugural class is reportedly composed of a diverse group, including 20 percent who are American Indian.




"Today we celebrate a momentous milestone and a historic moment for the Cherokee Nation, for our friends at Oklahoma State University, and for our first class of 54 students who are officially entering the medical profession," said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. "As we mark the official opening of the first tribally-affiliated medical school in the United States, we know that we will one day look back on this day and what will matter most is whether our efforts have changed lives for the better. I believe that this partnership will advance quality health care for all by allowing us to teach a new generation of medical professionals to serve our communities for years to come. I wish each and every student the best as they begin this journey. They have our full support."




"The students who make up the Class of 2024 have fulfilled our greatest hopes. They come with impeccable academic credentials and a desire to make a difference in the lives of others. Our faculty here in Tahlequah and in Tulsa are committed to their academic and professional success. Our singular mission is to prepare them for a fulfilling and successful career in medicine," said Dr. William J. Pettit, dean of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation.





Speaking to Medscape, Hoskin said that the historical collaboration with OSU came in response to years of governmental neglect. "The symbol of having a medical school in our capital is just so powerful," he said. "We're not waiting for the federal government to meet its healthcare obligations to American Indian people and their sovereign governments." While construction continues on the new, state-of-the-art facility located on the campus of the WW Hastings Hospital, temporary classrooms have been established at the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center where students will attend a mix of online and in-person classes with appropriate physical distancing.




The school building will reportedly feature an anatomy laboratory, clinical skills lab, osteopathic manipulative medicine lab, standardized patient labs, and a simulation center with state-of-the-art computer programmable manikins. There will also be lecture halls, classrooms, faculty offices, study carrels, and a gym/workout area. Several students admitted that they were drawn to the school because of its location. "When they announced this partnership with the Cherokee Nation, I had five different family members send it to me," said 24-year-old Connor West, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation but has never lived on tribal lands.




"It's like being in Washington, DC, and meeting the president," he stated, adding that he's thrilled to be able to meet tribal leaders, see signs around town written in both English and Cherokee, and so many cars with Cherokee Nation license plates.

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