MESA, Ariz.: With high rates of chronic illnesses like diabetes, high-blood pressure, and cardiovascular and kidney disease, no group in America has more urgent healthcare needs than American Indians. Compounding the problem is extremely limited access to healthcare and a severe shortage of Native healthcare providers.

Now a $200,000 grant from the Arizona-based Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) will enable A.T. Still University’s National Center for American Indian Health Professions (ATSU-NCAIHP) to help address the problem. Founded in 1892, the university trains 4,000 students in 14 healthcare specialties including medicine, dentistry and physical and occupational therapy at its Mesa, AZ., and Kirksville, MO., campuses. ATSU-NCAIHP is the only graduate university healthcare program dedicated to eliminating the healthcare disparity between Native and other Americans.

The funding will enable ATSU-NCAIHP to launch the Native Early Acceptance Team (NEAT) program. NEAT will provide guidance and support to American Indian students who may be the first in their families to pursue higher education and for whom a four-year college can represent a significant financial hardship. By identifying students early in their academic careers, NEAT will create a pipeline of Native healthcare providers who will return to their communities after graduation. The grant brings to $500,000 the total amount GRIC has given ATSU-NCAIHP for outreach to Arizona’s Native community in just five years.

Through NEAT, A.T. Still University’s National Center for American Indian Health Professions will:

• Recruit American Indian high-school and community-college students and connect them with academic, financial, emotional, and cultural support services that will ensure their progress from high school to college to graduate healthcare study at ATSU and, finally, to careers in healthcare within their own Native communities.

• Advise the students on academic performance, college- and graduate-school prerequisites and preparatory courses, financial aid and scholarships, and college visits.

• Provide those who have progressed to college and, later, ATSU, with tutoring or remedial education services as well as coaching that addresses differences in learning styles and behavior between Native and non-Native students.

• Create partnerships among tribal leaders, tribal educators and local, state, and regional higher-education organizations. (Partners already identified include the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs, Pathways into Health, Roadways into Health, the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, Greater Valley Area Health Education Center, the Northern Arizona Area Health Education Center and Health Occupations Students of America.)

Said Douglas L. Wood, D.O., Ph.D., ATSU’s senior vice president for academic affairs, “The generosity of the Gila River Indian Community will allow ATSU to step up its outreach to the large American Indian community in Arizona and the surrounding states. GRIC is making it possible for ATSU to address the serious healthcare challenges Native communities face and to pursue ATSU’s founding mission of serving the underserved.”

A.T. Still University’s National Center for American Indian Health Professions (ATSU-NCAIHP) is the only graduate university healthcare program dedicated to eliminating the healthcare gap between Native communities and the general population. By encouraging Native students to become medical professionals and to use their skills in the service of their community, ATSU-NCAIHP is fulfilling the university’s mission of serving the underserved. For more information visit http://blogs.atsu.edu/ncaihp.

Founded in 1892, A.T. Still University (ATSU) offers graduate education in 14 healthcare specialties including medicine, dentistry and physical and occupational therapy at its Mesa, AZ., and Kirksville, MO., campuses. With a mission of serving the underserved, ATSU places a particular emphasis on exposing students to populations in need and preparing future graduates to work within those communities. For more information visit www.atsu.edu.

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