"I can't think of another grant funded University program that has lasted this long," said INMED Director Gene Delorme.
INMED, a program designed to assist American Indian students to be health professionals in tribal communities, hosted its annual Summer Institute (SI) program in June and July. Ninety students were selected for the six week academic enrichment session for students enrolled in grades 7 -12. This year, 26 American Indian reservations has youth represented in the program.
"I found out it as a seventh grader." said JoMarie Garcia, a Lake Andie, S.D., native enrolled in the Yankton Sioux Tribal Reservation. "It helps you to get a head start on classes you would take to enter the medical field. So, I thought it was the perfect program for me."
Garcia and other SI students absorbed the University atmosphere while staying in residence halls, eating in the dining facilities and taking classes. They attended lectures given by successful American Indian health professionals, learned more about various health careers, participated in physical education activities, traveled on educational field trips, attended a powwow and met other American Indian students from across the U.S.
SI staff provide an all-around university experience for their students, but the focus of the program is in the classroom.
"It's meant to bolster and enrich their math and Science courses while supporting them in their quest to enter college courses that may lend to medical fields," said Naomi Bender, Summer Institute program coordinator.
During the week days, students woke up early and prepared for classes, which started at 8:30 a.m. The classes included biology, chemistry, communications/study skills, health with basic first aid, math and physics ― vital courses for a successful health career. Study Hall was 3:30 to 5 p.m. After the walk back to the residence halls, it's dinner, followed by activities. Lights out at 10.
The busy schedule and the challenging courses are actually a selling point for the sort of students the program recruits.
"Who wants to come to school in the summertime except us?" Garcia laughs. "I like being around people that want to reach their full potential like me."
INMED's role as a conduit for medical professionals to provide services on reservations is as critical as ever.
"If you enter the emergency room where I'm from, you'll be in there for five hours," said Joe Tailfeathers, a member of Montana's Blackfoot Reservation. "There aren't many doctors, and that inspired me to go back and take care of my people."
"My parents both work at the Aberdeen IHS (Indian Health Services) and I hear them talk about how there aren't many doctors up in Belcourt (on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota)," he said. 'I would like to help out by going into the medical field."
Despite INMED's success, the IHS grant, which it relies on, continues to shrink. Funds have been drying up after significant budget cuts to Title VII of the the Federal Health Professions Act. INMED lost $36,000 of funding this year alone due to federal sequestration of its Indian Health Service grant.
DeLorme, a former assistant dean of the UND School of Law, came to the INMED program in 1994 with a full-time staff of nine. Today that number is three.
He and his two colleagues have put in significant hours to maintain SI and keep it as a top-level program.
"He's the rock that keeps the program going." Bender said. "He's made sure we meet all grant objectives to keep this programming for not only SI, but for our college programming as well."
Worth the Effort
According to Delorme, the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences graduates 20-25 percent of enrolled members of the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes, and the INMED program and its Summer institute have been crucial to developing and recruiting American Indian doctors.
"Not only have I learned a lot in the classroom, but I've learned a lot about myself and other people," said Garcia. "It really helped me grow as a person and reach my full potential. Here we are challenged continually."
The challenge in the classroom has been matched every year by experiences with peers that create lasting bonds and memories for all the students.
"I wanted to make an impression," said Peltier, with a smile. "I didn't want to leave without any stories. I think I succeeded. I really like all the people here. They're interesting to say the least."
INMED also has established UND as a springboard that helps students move ahead with their career ambitions.
"UND is definitely one of my options," said Tailfeathers. "I've been in the coming here for five years now, and I picture myself being here in the fall and the spring time, going to my classes, and getting prepared for ' the real life' and how I want to achieve success."