Tribal Affiliation: Pascua Yaqui
Current Position: Associate Professor, Director of Indians into Medicine (INMED) Program, Director for Curriculum and Community Based Education, Advisor for Traditional Indian and Western Medicine Collaboration; University of Arizona College of Medicine, Department of Family & Community Medicine, Tucson, AZ
Health Professional Degree: Doctor of Medicine (MD)
Schools Attended: Carleton College, 1977, BA; University of Arizona College of Medicine, 1981, MD
Area of Focus/Specialty: Family Medicine, Rural medicine, Cross Cultural Medicine, Traditional Indian Medicine.
“Family Medicine contains the widest breadth of medical knowledge that a physician can share with people.”
Why did you choose your specific health professional career?
I chose family medicine because I like the variety of patients I am able to help. You get to help patients from infancy to old age and you also get to know your patients. If you prefer, you can approach your patients in a holistic manner. You’re not limited to just technology or certain procedures. Family medicine contains the widest breadth of medical knowledge that a physician can share with people. I like to know a little bit about everything, and if you have that sort of mindset, then family medicine is probably the best practice out there. On the other hand, if you want to know everything there is to know about one part of the body, then you need to focus and become a specialist of some type.
What experiences did you have to make sure this profession was right for you?
I had to seek experiences in every field of medicine before I chose family medicine. I had to decide: Do I really want to focus solely on children, which is what a pediatrician does? Or do I only want to focus on women’s health care alone, like an OB/Gyn doctor? Or do I want to do only surgery? Is it just adults that I want to take care of, like an internal medicine doctor? Towards the end of medical school, I started thinking about working in family medicine and later on I was convinced that family medicine is what I wanted to do. Plus, in my day, only the rebels went into family medicine. If you were sort of a rebel and wanted to do something different and unique, then you went to family medicine.
Describe any obstacles or barriers to success that you encountered along your health professional career path. How did you overcome them?
The biggest obstacle was, of course, getting into medical school. But once you get into medical school, if you can do well you are most likely to succeed along the way. So the obstacles back in my day were pretty obvious. There was a lot of racism. At the time, you just had to ignore it and have the self-confidence in your own abilities to know that you can do whatever you set your mind to do. I had to carry a lot of self-confidence almost to the point of seeming arrogant at times. In my day, a lot of people said that, “Indians and Mexicans couldn’t make it [through medical school].” They believed we didn’t have the educational background and the educational stamina to succeed. To overcome those assumptions, I had to be very stubborn and bull-headed, knowing my own abilities, and not letting anybody tell me any other way. Many times I had to just plow through the barrier, not going over it but instead just busting it down.
What do you do in your current job?
Currently, I do three things. One thing I do is teach medical residents. My main job is to teach residents how to be family doctors. Parts of my duties include guiding a medical resident as they come up with a plan that includes a treatment strategy for each patient. In addition to this, I’m a hospital ward attending which means that in the hospital, I supervise the care of patients on the family medicine resident team. I’m also the medical director of the clinic, so I make sure the clinic is running well, and if there are any complaints, any problems, or any issues, then it’s my job to answer them. I also make sure the clinic is properly staffed. The third job I do is teach medical students in case based learning (CBL) during the first two years of medical school. Once again it’s a variety and this variety is what keeps me happy.
What advice do you have for American Indian/Alaska Native students who are interested in health careers?
You have to be certain that the career you have chosen is what you want. Once you are sure that career is what you want to do, and then do whatever is necessary for you to succeed. This means that if you’re going into medical school, you must be able to complete all the prerequisites. You also have to be confident in yourself so that you are sure in your own abilities to succeed. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Along with self-confidence, you also need to have the ability to do the hard work. Medicine is not about being a genius. It’s about a person’s willingness to be intellectually smart, but more importantly, being able and willing to put in the time to work and the time to study. That’s what medicine is about. It’s very time consuming and you need to be willing to commit the time to succeed. This time commitment doesn’t mean that you give up your life, but it does mean that you must modify it a bit. The journey you take to reach your goal has got to be steadfast. You must remain focused on your goal but don’t go crazy and become a hermit, because you’ll have a miserable life. You must have a balanced life.
What would you like to see for your tribe’s future?
I would like to see more of the kids succeed, go on and have a desire to go into higher education. Probably the biggest problem we have is that so many kids drop out or are pushed out of high school and then they never finish their general educational studies. It’s sad. I would like to see more of them go into higher education like I said, and then come back and help to improve the next generation, so you get a rolling effect. You go out, you get educated, you come back, you educate the next generation, they go out, they get educated, and they come back and they educate. Keep doing that circle a couple of hundred times, then we will be doing well.
Do you practice traditional medicine? If you do, how does traditional medicine interact with conventional medicine?
I practice the philosophy of traditional medicine. Although I’m not a medicine man, I know and understand the philosophy of approaching people and the holistic thinking surrounding illness. I practice that type of philosophy and I approach patients in a holistic manner. I ask questions such as: How are you doing mentally? How are you doing spiritually? In addition to how are you doing physically? The physical aspect is what I’m trained to oversee as a physician. I cannot see myself acting like a medicine man, especially when I’ve never been trained as one. But as a doctor, I have worked closely with several medicine men. Since I am familiar with their philosophy of healing, I can use their philosophy to help me improve what I do. I do practice one aspect of traditional medicine in that I’m a sweat lodge keeper. My job is to keep the lodge clean, keep the area clean, make sure there is enough wood, make sure there are blankets, and arrange for the ceremony when appropriate. Inside the lodge, I’m the medicine man’s assistant. I help maintain the ceremony, which not only helps other people, but also helps me to stay centered and keep my own orientation. When I go in there and help, I receive a cleansing. So, it has a secondary benefit of cleansing my body, purifying my spirit, and also helping me become balanced and harmonious again. So, I do participate in sweat lodges regularly. I help people to find a medicine man if they want to see one. I will help patients by taking the patient to see a medicine man and teaching the patient how to approach a medicine man. Thereafter, I help arrange for the ceremony at home.