Association of American Indian Physician’s Western Consortium: American Indians Accessing Health Professions Program (AIAHPP)

April Nurse
August 23, 2023

In July 2013, Dr. Nicole Stern (Mescalero Apache), then President of the Association of American Indian Physicians, created a one-day pilot program for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) pre-health professional students, with sponsorship from the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) and the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP), held one day prior to the annual AAIP meeting. The goal of this one-day event, was to bring together health professionals, medical school administrators and staff, public health professionals, and researchers to present their areas of expertise, and network with students in a small group setting. 

In 2014, the AAIP created and launched its first American Indians Accessing Health Professions Program (AIAHPP), which represented a two-day version of the pilot program, again with sponsorship from AAIP and UNLV. Components of the two-day program include lectures, simulation labs, problem-based learning sessions, networking opportunities, cultural activities, and panel presentations. The AIAHPP was well received, and then became a multi-year project for approximately 20 AI/AN pre-health professional students each summer, relying on sponsorships from collaborative institutions within California and Nevada. Site hosts provided in-kind donations, while co-sponsor institutions donated money to AAIP, as a way to cover the costs (travel, housing, meals) for the 20 students. The AIAHPP hosts for 2015 through 2022 included UC Davis School of Medicine in 2015 and 2020, UC Berkeley School of Public Health in 2016, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in 2017, UC Riverside School of Medicine in 2021, and Stanford School of Medicine in 2022. The 2015 to 2017 programs were in-person, while the 2018 and 2019 programs were not held. In 2020 and 2021, AIAHPP resumed virtually with over 35 participants attending each year. In 2022, the program resumed in-person at Stanford School of Medicine. In 2023, the site host was Western University in Pomona, California from July 27 through July 30th, and included 17 student participants. 

For selection into AIAHPP, AAIP and volunteer sponsor institution reviewers select AI/AN community college, tribal college, and early four-year college/university pre-health professional students to learn from and interact with health professionals about the variety of public health and health professional fields. In the United States, there is, unfortunately, a stagnant shortage of AI/AN students and professionals in medicine and other health professional fields. By attending this two-day program, we provide mentorship and guidance to AI/AN students in an effort to support their pursuit of a health professional career. During this program, we provide opportunities for students to hear from current health professional students, as well as receive information from universities, organizations and programs within California, and nationwide, about their unique programming opportunities. Students will also hear about summer programs, as well as research opportunities, that can help stimulate an interest in a health professional, public health, or academic medicine career. Research has shown that health care improves in communities (rural and urban underserved), where members of those communities return to provide care. Thus, given the incredibly high chronic disease burden within AI/AN communities, AAIP hopes to have an overall impact in improving the health care for these underserved populations by increasing the AI/AN health professional workforce.

About Nicole Stern

Nicole Stern was sworn in as President of the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP) in August 2012. She is a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico. Stern is an assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. In her outpatient practice, she specializes in general internal medicine and sports medicine. She is an advocate of educating the general public about the use and value of traditional medicine in American Indian cultures and supporting American Indian and Alaska Native students in the pipeline to careers in medicine and biomedical research. Stern also wants to expand AAIP’s efforts to promote exercise and healthy eating for youth as a step to prevent obesity and chronic disease.

Tribal Affiliation: Mescalero Apache

Hometown: Tucson, Arizona

Region: Southeast