Med school formalizes partnership with Lummi Nation

The agreement opens more opportunities for medical students to learn how to care for Native American peoples.

The University of Washington School of Medicine has solidified a partnership with the Lummi Nation to teach medical students and trainees at the Lummi Tribal Health Center in Bellingham, Wash. The school and the tribe have had a longstanding relationship; the new legal contract formally recognizes the tribe’s sovereignty and opens more training opportunities.

“Partnerships are vital for us to be respectful to these tribal communities and meet them where they are, without expectations,” said Dr. Jason Deen (Blackfeet), a pediatric cardiologist and director of the UW School of Medicine’s Indian Health Pathway. “The days have gone that we, as the ivory tower, expect these communities to partner with us. Now it’s us approaching them to say what we can offer them as they accept and train our students. It shows mutual respect in having these legal agreements.”

The UW School of Medicine has formal agreements with several tribal nations, but in recent years, students have been training less frequently at tribal centers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To address this, existing agreements are being revitalized. New formal agreements with the Lummi Nation as well as with the Tulalip Tribes of Washington state and the Navajo Nation in Tuba City, Ariz., ensures more opportunities for students to learn how to care for Native American peoples.

The formal partnership with the Lummi Nation came about in part through the determination of fourth-year medical student Jason Finkbonner, a Lummi Nation member. Finkbonner’s chosen specialty is psychiatry, and in searching for a mentor, he learned that the Lummi Tribal Health Clinic is one of a few such U.S. facilities that employs a full-time psychiatrist, Dr. George Vana.

Finkbonner worked with Millie Kennedy (Tsimshian), tribal liaison for the Indian Health Pathway, and with stakeholders from the UW's Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Department, UW Medicine's Office of Healthcare Equity and the medical school to establish a four-week elective in psychiatry at the Lummi Tribal Health Center.

“Growing up on the (Lummi) reservation, you’re part of an extended family — your tribe. All my aunts, uncles and cousins lived around us and we were always together and doing things for the betterment of the group,” Finkbonner said.

Going to medical school wasn’t so much a self-oriented pursuit, he said, but instead driven by the thought of “How will what I’m doing contribute to everyone around me? A mentality in the tribe for those who choose to leave and seek higher education is that eventually, you want to come back and take what you’ve learned and help the people.”

This news item was adapted from McKenna Princing's longer story in The Huddle.

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