Original Research

Public health and health professional education at a tribal college: a collaborative immersion program in rural North Dakota


name here
Charlotte Austin1
MD, Resident Physician *

Elizabeth Berg2 MD, Fellow

Loretta Heuer3 PhD, Professor

Linda Cushman4 PhD, Professor

Cynthia Lindquist5 PhD, President

Jonathan Ripp6 MD, MPH, Professor


1 Department of Surgery, Monmouth Medical Center, 200 2nd Avenue, Long Branch, NJ 07740, USA

2 Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, Department of Pediatrics, NYP/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, 622 W 168th St. PH 17-119, New York, NY 10032, USA

3 Population and Family Health at Columbia University Medical Center, 60 Haven Avenue B-2, New York, NY 10032, USA

4 Cankdeska Cikana Community College, 214 1st Ave, Fort Totten, ND 58335, USA

5 School of Nursing, North Dakota State University School of Nursing, NDSU Dept 2670, PO Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58102, USA

6 General Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Department of Medicine, Medical Education, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, One Gustave Levy Place, New York, NY 10029, USA

ACCEPTED: 4 June 2019

early abstract:

Native Americans have some of the worst health outcomes of any minority group in the United States, and are severely underrepresented in the health professional workforce. From 2009-2015, partners from a tribal college in rural North Dakota and academic institutions in New York collaborated to create a program wherein non-Native health professionals traveled to the reservation to teach a summer course to Native students. This study assesses the impact of the program on both the Native students who took the course and the non-Native health professionals who taught the course. Focus groups composed of former students in the program were held in Spirit Lake, North Dakota. Non-Native student teachers were surveyed using an online survey tool. Focus group data were analyzed using grounded theory methodology. Survey data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Fifteen former students participated in the focus groups. Participants stated that their experiences in the course increased interest in health professions and knowledge of public health issues. Participants also described barriers to entering health professionals for Native students and the benefits of close interaction with non-Native individuals.  Eighty-six percent (24/28) of former course teachers responded to the survey. Survey respondents stated their experiences in North Dakota increased their understanding of underserved populations and their interest in working in rural areas. This study assesses the successes and limitations of a collaborative, inter-professional immersion program in rural North Dakota. Similar programs may increase the number of Native Americans in health professions and increase non-Native health professional interest in and engagement with rural communities.