First-of-Its-Kind Med School Makes History- in Oklahoma Cherokee Native Tribal Nation

A wise choice...Sell the Jet Airplane.   Baker sold off the nation's private jet to help pay for healthcare services and allocated $300 million to refurbish rural clinics and create and equip a new state-of-the-art outpatient facility. The Cherokee Nation now operates the largest tribally operated healthcare system in the United States; 27% of its working physicians are tribally affiliated, according to a tribal spokesperson.


First-year medical student Ashton Glover Gatewood, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, receives her white coat from Natasha Bray, DO, associate dean of academic affairs at the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation.


Tribal communities have long lacked resources and medical care. They face crushingly high rates of poverty, substance abuse, and suicide, as well as an increased incidence of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the healthcare disparities that affect these medically underserved people.

Medical educators have struggled for decades — with little success — to boost the number of Native American physicians and to train physicians to staff clinics for chronically underserved rural populations such as the Cherokee Nation. Nationwide, fewer than half of 1% of US physicians are Native American. In the first class at the new school, 22% identify as such.

"After we were removed from tribal lands and there were no teachers, we invested our treasury into teachers," said Bill John Baker, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. "This is a natural progression. Just as our ancestors grew their own teachers 150 years ago, we want to grow our own doctors."

"A Match Made in Heaven"
Many credit the creation of the school to Baker's vision. During his tenure as principal chief from 2011–2019, Baker made healthcare a priority for a population struggling with high death rates from cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. Baker sold off the nation's private jet to help pay for healthcare services and allocated $300 million to refurbish rural clinics and create and equip a new state-of-the-art outpatient facility. The Cherokee Nation now operates the largest tribally operated healthcare system in the United States; 27% of its working physicians are tribally affiliated, according to a tribal spokesperson.

The investment in healthcare caught the attention of OSU leaders, who approached the chief with the prospect of opening a medical school on tribal lands. "It was a match made in heaven," Baker said. "We've been investing in our young people for quite some time, sending them to medical school at Harvard and Stanford and all over the country, but when we saw an opportunity to have a medical school right here and not have to ship our kids off, that made perfect sense."





First-of-Its-Kind Med School Makes History