Posted on: November 17, 2020
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to pay tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans. Two of our fourth-year pharmacy students, Trent Bridge and Aiya Almogaber, spent the month of September providing care to members of the Blackfeet Tribe at the Blackfeet Community Hospital in Browning, Montana. The experience they gained impacted them both professionally and personally.
Blackfeet Community Hospital is located in the western portion of the 1.5 million-acre Blackfeet Indian Reservation. More than 7,000 descendants of the Ampska Piaui Nation live in Browning. The hospital is the only access to medical care in the area and fills more than 1,200 prescriptions daily.
They have the opportunity to provide care to unique patient populations in rural settings across the country that they may not otherwise serve in their careers.
Jennifer Baker, Pharm.D. Director of Experiential Programs
Jennifer Baker, Pharm.D., assistant professor and director of experiential programs, coordinates with several practice sites around the country that provide health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives through the Indian Health Service, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We regularly have students complete APPEs at IHS and Tribal Unit sites in South Carolina, North Carolina, Montana, Arizona and Alaska,” she says. “They have the opportunity to provide care to unique patient populations in rural settings across the country that they may not otherwise serve in their careers. These experiences have often led to future jobs or residencies after graduation.”
Bridge and Almogaber both chose the opportunity to spend time in this isolated location because they wanted an experience unlike any other care setting they had seen or will likely ever see.
“It is an extremely remote area and medically underserved,” says Bridge. “It’s impoverished. Housing is run down. It’s sad to see because these are the natives of our country, and I feel they are isolated from the rest of the world. I don’t think a lot of people really understand what it is like to live there.”
Almogaber says she certainly felt pushed out of her comfort zone.
“Being on a reservation, to experience what life is really like, to see what limited resources they have is eye-opening,” she says. “Not only are housing and jobs limited, even access for groceries is limited, with only one option unless they drive up to two hours away.”
What she did recognize though was the strength and pride of the tribal members.
“They are a very proud, very tough community,” she adds. “They have a strong sense of community and everyone within their community is considered family.”
They are a very proud, very tough community ... and everyone within their community is considered family.
Aiya Almogaber Pharm.D. Candidate
While Bridge and Almogaber provided patient care to the area residents, such as COVID-19 screenings and diabetic counseling, they also provided support to the hospital staff, which helped to free up valuable time to provide patient care.
“We provided flu vaccinations to all the employees of the hospital,” Bridge notes, “even completing all the paperwork. That eliminated a great deal of hassle for them.”
Both Bridge and Almogaber feel the rotation provided them with a rare chance to experience a completely different way of life and to learn about the history of the tribe.
“All of the pharmacy techs at the hospital are Native Blackfeet,” says Bridge. “It was a great exposure to work with them and learn about the culture directly from them.”
He also hopes others will recognize the need for better access to educational opportunities and health care.
“I think it’s important that we are mindful of these inequalities that are out there, how it impacts their day-to-day lives, and how we take that into consideration in how we provide care for them,” he says. “We had an opportunity on the front lines to impact their lives.”
Almogaber saw the experience as a life lesson. “Everyone has their own life experiences, and I learned to respect that you must take every situation as it comes and learn from every single interaction,” she says. “That is something I will take with me throughout my career.”