Tribe Taking Care of Its Own: Chickasaw Foundation Increases Scholarships for Medical Students

By Terry-Cobo, Sarah | THE JOURNAL RECORD, March 18, 2013 | Go to article overview

Tribe Taking Care of Its Own: Chickasaw Foundation Increases Scholarships for Medical Students


Terry-Cobo, Sarah, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Dr. Tina Cooper wanted to serve her community in the best way she knew how. Now a family practice doctor, Cooper received a scholarship from the Indian Health Service to help her through medical school. When it was time for her internship, she chose to come to Ada.

Cooper was married and had two children when she decided to go through medical school, she said, and she wouldn't have been able to do so without the financial support from the IHS. Now she is the medical director of the Sovereign Family Practice Clinic in Ada and a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

As the country faces a shortage of doctors and health care providers in coming years, tribal communities are faced with the same problem. In 2010, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimated that by 2015, there will be a shortage of nearly 63,000 doctors among all specialties. Although people of Native American, African-American and Hispanic ethnic backgrounds make up 25 percent of the population, people from these minority groups make up 6 percent of practicing doctors, according to the organization.

In addition, many Native American tribal members prefer their doctors to be Native American, said Dr. Judy Goforth-Parker, administrator of the Chickasaw Nation Division of Health. The Chickasaw Foundation has increased the number of scholarships it gives to its tribal members, to encourage people to return to serve their community, particularly in health care. Since 2004, medical scholarship funds have increased to $14,700 per year from $3,000. As a percentage of the total the Chickasaw Nation gives in all scholarships, it has increased medical scholarships from 11 percent to 18 percent in that same time frame.

Cooper has been on the Chickasaw Foundation's board since 2003. In recent years, she said, the board has been receiving more scholarship applications from members who live out of state. In addition, she said the grade point averages have gone up and grades have become more competitive.

In the last three years, the Chickasaw Nation built a new facility and nearly doubled the number of patients it can treat, Goforth-Parker said. The clinic went from a 130,000-square-foot facility serving 350,000 patients to a 370,000-square-foot facility serving 650,000 patients. In December alone, the clinic added 500 new patients. The Sovereign Family Practice Clinic is almost full, and operators are improving logistics in order make sure every available office is used to see more patients. …

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