Tribal Affiliation: Navajo
Current Position: Pediatrician, El Rio Community Health Center, Tucson, AZ
Health Professional Degree(s): Doctor of Medicine (MD)
Schools Attended: Northern Arizona University, BS; University of Arizona College of Medicine, MD
Area of Focus/Specialty: Pediatrics
“It is possible to leave the reservation, get an education, and still have the means of returning to the reservation and providing for the tribe.”
Why did you choose your specific health professional career?
Growing up, I had always known that I wanted to do something in the healthcare field. My mother worked in the laboratory for Indian Health Service (IHS) at a clinic in Kayenta, AZ, which was the half-way point between school and home. So after school, I would stop by to see her and sometimes hang out in the emergency room. I watched the doctors and followed them around. At that time, I didn’t know I wanted to be a doctor. I just kind of knew I wanted to do something within the clinic like my mom. It wasn’t until by my second year in college that I became interested in medicine. During that year, I had taken time off from college and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. When I went back home to visit my mom for Christmas, I hurt my back and I went to the IHS Hospital in Whiteriver, AZ where my mother was living at that time. There I met Dr. Provincio, he addressed my medical problem in about ten to fifteen minutes and then we spent another hour and a half talking about medical school and the field of medicine. The first time I saw him, my mom was with me in the waiting room. She pointed over to the nurse’s station and said, “there’s your doctor.” There were two men standing there at the nurse’s station. One of the men was Anglo and was wearing penny loafers, khakis with the sharp cresses, and an Oxford shirt. The other man next to him was Hispanic and had on motorcycle boots, faded greasy jeans, black t-shirt with no sleeves, tattoos up his arms, with a big Fu-Manchu biker mustache, and big long black curly hair. So of course, I pointed to the Anglo, and asked, “that one?” My mom said, “No, he’s the nurse, the other one is your doctor.” He ended up just being a really fascinating and amazing guy. I think it was at that point when I realized that never in my whole life had I ever seen a minority physician. That’s when I realized it was possible to be a physician. When I returned to Flagstaff, I changed my major to microbiology and started the pre-med process. Prior to college graduation, I applied to medical school, was accepted, and ultimately decided to pursue pediatrics as my specialty. I have always loved children and being around children. I decided that alleviating pain and suffering in children was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
What experiences did you have to make sure this profession was right for you?
Growing up it was always a priority in our family to help other people. It seemed already incorporated in my family’s way of life to help people and the medical profession went well with this philosophy. My mother was employed by IHS, we lived in IHS housing, our neighbors and friends were all in the medical field. What better way to help people than in the field of medicine.
Describe any obstacles or barriers to success that you encountered along your health professional career path. How did you overcome them?
My first encounter with real big obstacles didn’t occur until I started medical school. Fortunately, college was always straightforward for me. Applying myself and working hard yielded good grades. When I got to medical school, we had to learn such a large volume of information, and the way that I had studied before was appropriate at the college level, but in medical school it wasn’t adequate. I didn’t do well my first year, but luckily here at the University Of Arizona College Of Medicine there was a learning skill specialist, Dr. Jill Keller, who helped me re-learn how to study. So it took a lot of encouragement and I kind of went kicking and screaming down this new path of how to study, but in the end I switched over to Dr. Keller’s study methods and ended up doing better. I still have problems with standardized tests but I think it’s something a lot of minority students encounter. A mentor of mine was talking about how his kids are already being taught in school how to read questions, answer questions, and how to manage their time during a test. The schools are teaching these kids how to take a standardized test. He said he never got that growing up and neither did I. For this reason, I feel like we’re already a few steps back before the start of the race.
What do you do in your current job?
I just completed my pediatric residency training and was recruited and hired by El Rio Community Health Center, here in Tucson. I’m specializing in pediatrics which is the medical care of children. The age range is usually from birth to at least twenty-two years. The training program that I am in focuses on all aspects of pediatric medicine. I’ve taken care of premature babies starting at twenty-seven weeks of gestation in the neonatal intensive care unit. This means that they are at least a month or two premature. Inpatient medicine is the time I spent taking care of children in the hospital with all types of illnesses ranging from a severe viral infection to a diagnosis of cancer. My time on outpatient medicine was spent in clinics doing well child visits, physicals, ear infections and so on. There are a wide variety of electives you can choose from when you are training to become a pediatrician. In my training program, I’ve already completed cardiology, pulmonology, genetics, endocrinology, and pharmacology.
What advice do you have for American Indian/Alaska Native students who are interested in health careers?
I would encourage students to get a better idea of the time and commitment they will be undertaking by observing someone in the field of their interest. Follow this person around and see exactly what their daily life entails. I’ve had a couple of friends in medical school who didn’t really appreciate what medical school involved. They didn’t realize how demanding it was or what being a doctor meant. Ultimately, they left medical school and chose other career paths.
What would you like to see for your tribe’s future?
The Navajo Nation is very committed to funding scholarships for students who wish to attend a university or college, but it seems like there is never enough money. The only money that I received from my tribe was during college, and that was just enough to buy my text books and not much else to live on. So I ended up having to take out loans during college. For medical school, I was still unable to receive tribal funding, so that left me taking out additional loans. I think the most daunting thing about starting school was the cost and I have a considerable amount of debt because of college and medical school. Although the IHS scholarship is a great financial resource, I would like to see the Navajo Nation be able to put more money into education.
Do you practice traditional medicine? If you do, then how does traditional medicine interact with conventional medicine?
I do rely on traditional medicine when I’m out of balance, but I don’t provide traditional medicine to patients. There’s been an increase in awareness of hospitals and their administrations for the need of the involvement of Native healers. I know the Veteran’s Administration has medicine men on staff at certain hospitals. Some programs such as the Native American Cardiology department at University Medical Center in Tucson tries to help the Native patient as a whole person. They provide traditional food, interpreters who are able to explain complex medical situations into topics that elders can understand, they also have access to traditional healers.