INMED Summer Institute students from the
Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
Timing is Everything
Out of Adversity, Opportunity Arises for INMED & INBRE
Timing, as they say, is everything.
When the Indians Into Medicine (INMED) program at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences learned in the summer of 2006 that Congress would cut its budget by nearly half, program director Gene DeLorme, J.D. ‘89 (B.S. ‘86), had no idea that the bad news would open the door to a new and mutually beneficial partnership.
A few months after the cuts were announced, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made a change that enabled the North Dakota IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) to lend direct financial assistance to INMED. It not only helped save one of INMED’s most important programs, but it also created an opportunity for American Indian students in the biomedical research field.
|Gene DeLorme, director, Indians into Medicine (INMED) Program
“It was fortuitous timing, to say the least,” DeLorme said. “The decision to stop funding Title VII programs created a void in funding for our programs. The connection with INBRE doesn’t address all of that by any means, but yet it is a valuable part of what we are doing.”
Although INMED and INBRE are both programs within UND’s medical school, until the NIH National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) – which administers INBRE – amended one of its objectives, the two had little in common. INMED helped American Indian students develop careers in the health care field and INBRE assisted in developing biomedical researchers through undergraduate institutions and tribal colleges.
In October 2006, that changed when the NCRR issued an amendment allowing INBRE programs to re-budget funds to engage in outreach activities at the kindergarten through senior high levels (K-12).
“Over the years, we had requests from INBRE directors who wanted to use their resources to reach students earlier than the community college or undergraduate levels,” said Fred Taylor, director of the NCRR’s Institutional Development Awards (IdeA) program. “We wanted to provide opportunities to make young people aware of career opportunities in biomedical research.”
The change allowed INBRE to help fund INMED’s annual Summer Institute, a six-week academic enrichment session held at UND for 90 American Indian students from seventh to twelfth grade. Students are recruited from 100 middle and high schools on 24 reservations in five states.
“When we find the students that are really working hard on their educational pursuits, we encourage those kids to apply to this program,” DeLorme said.
For 25 years, the Summer Institute has provided students with an opportunity to develop successful careers in health care through daily classes. They also experience life on a college campus, listen to successful American Indian health professionals, learn more about health careers, participate in educational field trips, attend a powwow and meet other American Indian students from across the United States.
“This program is probably one of the most challenging and yet rewarding components of INMED,” DeLorme said. “It takes a lot of staffing and people hours to go into the tribal communities, describe the program, encourage students and get them involved. Recruiting is a very time- and effort-intensive activity”
Funding assistance from INBRE, combined with INMED’S support from the Indian Health Service enabled INMED to maintain the Summer Institute Program at historical participant levels. Financial contributions from the UND president’s office and medical school’s dean’s office enabled INMED to continue other college level summer programs this year.
Since 1973, INMED has helped train and educate approximately a fifth of all American Indian physicians in the country who are enrolled members of U.S. federally recognized tribes. The program also assists tribal communities by developing health care professionals in other fields, such as nursing, allied health and administration.
However, one component lacking has been in recruiting, training and developing American Indian students for careers in biomedical research. The collaboration between INMED and INBRE will help meet that need.
|The Indian Health Service has always had an interest in doing health research and looking at the cause of disease, but it’s not had the resources.
“The Indian Health Service has always had an interest in doing health research and looking at the cause of disease, but it’s not had the resources,” DeLorme said. “The tie-in with the INBRE program is not to change the focus, but to expand it.
“We want individuals who will go into basic science research to assist in the provision of health care,” he said. “We’re looking at it from the perspective of studying disease, studying remedies and developing methodologies.”
Don Sens, Ph.D., professor of surgery and North Dakota INBRE director, envisions a navigator program emerging from the INMED-INBRE partnership.
“We’ll teach high school students the value of science using Native Americans as mentors,” he explained. “When they come out of tribal colleges and go into the undergraduate institutions, there will be a Native American mentor they already know. We’ll navigate the person through the system.”
Negative developments seldom have positive outcomes, but in this case, the dark cloud had a silver lining.
“The success potential for INBRE is enhanced by tying in with INMED because of its reputation and the support from the tribal communities for its mission,” DeLorme said.
“We’ve explained the emphasis of the INBRE program to these representatives and they’re supportive. I think it’s a win-win for both.”
- Patrick C. Miller