UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

A lot to celebrate at INMED’s 50th Anniversary

Thanks to Indians Into Medicine program, UND remains No. 1 for graduating Indigenous physicians, allied health professionals 

Guests took pictures at the entrance to the INMED Program’s 50th Anniversary event, which unfolded in the room in the background at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today

“Currently, there are 155 medical schools in the United States,” said Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences, addressing the crowd at a recent dinner.

“And there’s one that has the largest fraction of its class as American Indian or Alaska Native. Guess which one is No. 1 on that list?

“UND!” Wynne said with a flourish, and the crowd responded with applause and cheers. Understandably so, given that almost everyone in the room had helped the University achieve that No.-1-in-the-United States goal.

Wynne spoke on April 20 at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Indians Into Medicine program, a signature program at UND and one of the University’s best known and most respected claims to fame.

Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences at UND, speaks at the Indians Into Medicine program’s recent 50th Anniversary Celebration. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

While the federal Indian Health Service offers grants to several universities under the INMED name, the program originated at UND in 1973 and has been active and funded every year since INMED’s inception.

Today, the INMED program at UND has graduated more American Indian and Alaska Native physicians – nearly 300 – than any other university. In 2015, the National Congress of American Indians estimated that more than half of all of the active American Indian or Alaska Native medical doctors graduated from the UND INMED program.

Moreover, INMED also has graduated more than 330 other health providers, including physical and occupational therapists, medical laboratory scientists, physician assistants, and public health professionals, as cultivating and producing Indigenous professionals in all of those fields also is a big part of INMED’s mission.

Quite a change from 1972, the year before INMED’s founding, when there were only 26 American Indian physicians and one Indian dentist in the entire United States.

“You know, if we look back to 1973, who would have thought that we would have a room full of people like this at this point, to celebrate the successes of the program?” Wynne said at the 50th Anniversary event.

“And of course, that success is due to the efforts of people in this room, as well those who came before us. … So congratulations to all of you, and congratulations to the INMED program for 50 exceptional years.”

Dr. Adrienne Laverdure, a UND medical school and INMED program graduate, speaks about her career as a family physician in Wisconsin at the INMED program’s 50th Anniversary event. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

About 100 people attended the celebration and dinner, which was held on April 20 at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Guests included INMED students, alumni and their families, as well as faculty members, current and former administrators and friends of the program from near and far.

One thing that helps account for the loyalty that INMED inspires is the fact that the program’s work extends far beyond recruiting; indeed, it supports students throughout the length of their training. The help includes academic, career, and financial aid support and advisement; tutorial services and writing mentorship; access to the Stan Guardipee Memorial Student Loan Fund for emergency loans; social and cultural events; and a traditional Honoring Ceremony and inclusion in the INMED Alumni organization upon graduation.

Moreover, “for students interested in working with tribal communities, other Indigenous populations or just wanting to go into medicine and serve as a role model, the advantage of coming to a program like INMED is the cohort model,” says Dr. Don Warne, a former director of INMED, in a YouTube.com video that can be found on the program’s website.

“That means you are not alone. You have other American Indian and Alaska Native medical students in class with you.”

The friendships and networking that this system inspires can make the School of Medicine & Health Sciences feel like a second home, said Dr. Adrienne Laverdure, a family physician at the Bad River Tribe’s Health and Wellness Center in Ashland, Wis., a graduate of the UND INMED program and the 50th Anniversary Celebration’s keynote speaker.

“From the very beginning, from the people I met in the program to my fellow students, we became like family,” Laverdure said in her speech. “Even when I had my medical-school admissions interview, I remember; at that point, I was a very shy and very scared person. … And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, they’re not going to pick me.’ But they did. They did. They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Laverdure arrived at UND with a suitcase in one hand, a bicycle in the other, $25 in her pocket and a dream of becoming a doctor, she told Indian Country Today in 2018. And thanks in part to the training and support she received through INMED, she became a family physician of renown, serving on the board of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and, in 2004,as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Minority Health Board, among other honors. She was named Wisconsin’s Family Physician of the Year in 2002.

“Some days in medical school, you just don’t know if you can make it or not,” she said in her talk. “But my family wouldn’t let me give up, and neither would my program. They simply would not let me give up on myself.”

Dan Henry, director of the Indians Into Medicine program at UND, talks at INMED’s 50th Anniversary Celebration about the strong and lasting friendships that the program inspires. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

This year, the School of Medicine & Health Sciences’s admitted 12 students via the INMED program to the medical-school program, said Dan Henry, INMED program director and an associate professor in the Department of Indigenous Health. Also this year, the school’s first-in-the-world Department of Indigenous Health held its first dissertation defense, which means the first doctoral degree in that program is soon to be awarded, Henry said at the anniversary celebration.

The program’s goals over the next few years include developing community clinics on reservations – clinics that can be staffed with INMED physicians as well as Indigenous nurses and other specialists, plus encouraging more children of INMED graduates to become health care professionals, as often happens when young people follow in their parents’ footsteps.

But through it all, INMED will continue its tradition of strongly supporting students and encouraging friendships, Henry said. “It truly is a family here, and I’m so impressed with how our graduates call their classmates brothers and sisters to this day,” he said. “That’s not going to change.”