Native American Research Internship nationally recognized

This story originally appeared here.

A University of Utah Health Department of Pediatrics program that supports academic, career and personal development of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) undergraduates from across the country has received recognition from the National Indian Health Board. The National Impact Award honors individuals and organizations whose work has made an impact on AI/AN health care on a national level. The Native American Research Internship (NARI) program was one of six recipients to receive the prestigious honor this year.

This award elevates the visibility of American Indian health care issues in the state of Utah and across the country,” says Scott Willie, NARI alumni and program coordinator. “NARI represents a small piece in the circle that has significantly increased the awareness of the need for more AI/AN researchers and health care providers. This award signifies the hope and prayers that our ancestors had for the future health and wellness of our communities.”

Launched in 2010, NARI was built on the guiding principal that eliminating health disparities hinges on recruitment, education and training of the most talented scientists in the United States. The program accomplishes this goal by providing hands-on research experience with U faculty and intensive mentoring to American Indian students who are interested in health science careers. The National Institutes of Health-funded program brings students to the U from around the country for 10 weeks each summer.

Unique to the program is the mentoring support provided to students as many navigate the world of biomedical research for the first time. Students meet with academic mentors about research in addition to mentors from the larger regional AI/AN community, who help them integrate their identity inside and outside of the research environment. In weekly talking circles, interns learn from one another as they discuss challenges and shared experiences. NARI students credit the personalized approach for making all the difference.

“…Even more important than the networking this program has provided is the great job it has done in fostering and strengthening our self-identity as future physicians,” one participant said in a survey. “The fires ignited here can bring light to our tribes for generations.”

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(left to right) Gloria Slattum, Maija Holsti, and Scott Willie.

In its 10 years, NARI has been a resounding success, with 128 participants representing 46 different tribal nations and 57 colleges and universities completing the internship. Of those, none have dropped out of college; so far, 53% have gone on to either medical or graduate school and 28% are employed in biomedical research. In addition, all students surveyed last year reported improvements in research skills, oral and written presentations, and knowledge of health disparities within AI/AN communities.

“I am most proud of the resilience, perseverance, and wonderful accomplishments of our NARI students,” says Maija Holsti, NARI director. “The NARI program hopes to continue to support and prepare AI/AN for medical and graduate school as a step toward improving health and eliminating health disparities in AI/AN communities.”

With its proven track record, NARI has become a model for underrepresented minority programs such as the Genomics Summer Research for Minorities internship at the U.

NARI received the award at the 2020 Heroes in Health Gala on Oct. 14. The NIHB is a nonprofit organization that represents tribal governments and provides services to tribes, Area Health Boards, tribal organizations, federal agencies and private foundations.

Applications for the 2021 NARI program are now being accepted.

Media Contacts

Julie Kieferassociate director, Science Communications, University of Utah Health