After an early morning flight to Phoenix, my travel partner and I set out on the long journey to the Northern Navajo Medical Center. Along the way, we stopped at the Grand Canyon since it only added an extra hour. After the pit stop, we continued on the mountain roads to Navajo Nation. We lost all cellphone and radio reception there, leaving us to navigate by old fashioned maps and prayer. I was surprised to see how many people lived in the mountains but even more so, how many lived in total poverty. During our time there we observed many of the health disparities that would be expected in other countries. I am doing an independent study in covering Uranium Exposure and teen pregnancy in this population and was very happy to find the radiation clinic! They even let me interview them!
I spent a considerable amount of time between the Teen Life Center and the Pediatrics Clinic. I was also given the opportunity to learn more about the IHS and how it works as well as to observe some of the public health initiatives available in the area. We were also given the opportunity to present at a wellness conference for two days during the visit! It was definitely a great experience and it gave me an opportunity to grow both personally through learning more about their culture and challenging some of my ideas as well as professionally with the assignments that I was given. I also was able to see much of my public health education first hand. We know that our Native American population suffers from higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure and living in conditions with mostly gas station convenience stores as options for food near by is partly to blame. Social determinants of health and environmental health play a huge role in the health problems here.
I also made time to have some fun! I have family in Albuquerque, New Mexico and they drove up today to spend some time with me. We did a bit of sight seeing in Farmington and went out for dinner. I also spent some time with the locals, was able to pick up some phrases in Navajo, and went sight seeing at Mesa Verde and the Four Corners Monument! I can’t believe the trip is over. It went by way too fast and I feel like there is so much more to learn. One thing is for sure, I will definitely be coming back 4th year and I’m for sure considering a career with the Indian Health Service. Much like the inner city, they are in need of culturally competent physicians that have an understanding of the public health issues and policies that they face.