UA Medical School kicks off Diversity and Inclusion HealthWeek

The University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix kicked off its Diversity and Inclusion HealthWeek on Tuesday. (Nick Serpa/DD)

The University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix kicked off its Diversity and Inclusion HealthWeek by commemorating Native American Heritage month on Tuesday.

Dr. Jonathan Cartsonis, director of the Rural Health Professions Program, organized the event. He said the occasion was an effort to help students better understand the diverse cultures they would be practicing medicine in.

“The idea is to have students to learn about Arizona and see the huge diversity that’s here,” he said. “We have so many different cultures. A third of our state is Indian reservations and so to go and practice in those sites can be very eye-opening and make them better doctors.”

Ideally, Cartsonis wants to create a path for students from reservations to go back and practice medicine in their home communities.

“We want to provide opportunities for students to return near to home and provide the culturally sensitive care that only a person from a community or that speaks the language could,” he said.

Ivan Makil, former president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, spoke about the challenges facing Native Americans today.

He began by talking about the history of oppression between Native Americans and the federal government, from boarding schools to damming vital rivers the reservations relied on.

“This history is so important because it will help you understand part of the challenges that our people have had in creating and sustaining healthy communities,” Makil said. “Over time, all of these experiences in our history haven’t made us very trusting. We’re still afraid because in today’s communities, tribes still have to fight for their rights.”

“Life is not easy, period. And tribal people know that it’s just not us that have had a hard time. We appreciate that other people have suffered,” he said. “The whole issue is really about respect.”

Eric Ossowski, a doctor specializing in family practice and speaker at the event, addressed the issues that can come up from practicing medicine in an unfamiliar culture.

While working with Native American families, he noticed that some of the babies had dirty-looking scalps. He later learned this was a traditional practice in which mothers would rub mesquite sap on the baby’s fontanelles (the soft spots on their heads) to keep out bad spirits.

“It was not a sign of neglect or that these children weren’t being cared for,” Ossowski said. “They were getting their immunizations and coming to the checkups.”

This was the first of eight total events in the university’s HealthWeek program. The goal of the events is highlight the health issues facing diverse communities and examine how doctors can provide equitable care.

The Diversity and Inclusion events will continue from Nov. 13 to 28, and will cover topics ranging from reproductive health care to HIV/AIDS among the African American community.

Individuals can learn more about HealthWeek and see the full schedule of events on university’s website.

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