Native American Heritage Month Spotlight: Alec Calac, Medical Student

Recognizing Native American Leaders in Medicine

Nov 29, 2022 · Dox Spotlight

During Native American Heritage Month, we at Doximity reflect on the important leadership AI/AN (American Indian and Alaska Native) individuals past and present have contributed to the field of medicine and the opportunities to support these physicians and clinicians.

This month, we'd like to spotlight our interview with Alec Calac, MD/PhD Student, UC San Diego School of Medicine and Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science; President, Association of Native American Medical Students.

Alec is a member of the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians. He has helped establish the UC San Diego Program in Medicine – Transforming Indigenous Doctor Education (PRIME-TIDE), which prepares medical students to meet the healthcare needs of American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes and Villages. He also works tirelessly as the President for the Association of Native American Medical Students and Chair for the American Medical Association Medical Student Section Committee on American Indian Affairs, identifying barriers and facilitators to greater inclusion of American Indians and Alaska Natives in medicine and the allied health professions.

The Committee on American Indian Affairs is also identifying policies and programs that can improve healthcare delivery to AI/AN Tribes and Villages.

Why is it important to you that we celebrate Native American Heritage Month in medicine?

While we celebrate the strength and resilience of Native American communities in November, it is also a time to remember that our focus on the challenges that these communities face should be year-round. By recognizing Native American Heritage Month, we can challenge leaders in academic medicine to maximize opportunities and engagement with Native American students interested in careers in medicine.

What has your journey been like as an AI/AN physician?

My journey is only just beginning as a fifth-year MD/PhD student pursuing a career in medicine, public health, and health policy. While I am not the first to walk this path, I recognize that the experiences and sacrifices of Native Americans in medicine before me made this journey possible for people like me.

What can we do to support AI/AN individuals pursuing or interested in pursuing medicine?

We must recognize the importance of cultural identity in fostering American Indian and Alaska Native trainee success in medicine. Further, we must make sure that representations of American Indian and Alaska Native communities in medical school curricula do not reinforce negative stereotypes and misguided principles of racial essentialism.

Are there any organizations you would like to highlight?

The Association of Native American Medical Students. They are a student organization representing Native American graduate health professions students throughout the US and Canada. The goals of ANAMS include providing support and a resource network for all Native Americans currently enrolled in various allied health professions schools and partnering with Tribal health programs to mentor Native American youth. ANAMS strives to increase the number of Native American students in medicine and other health professions.

Are there any historical figures or current leaders that you want to acknowledge?

Dr. Donald Warne - Associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. He also directs the Indians Into Medicine (INMED) program and Master of Public Health program and is a professor of family and community medicine. He was just appointed as the Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Indigenous Health and Provost Fellow for Indigenous Policy.

Dr. Naomi Bender - Director for the Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane (WSU Spokane) Native American Health Sciences program. She is leading the development of the nation’s first Indigenous clinical simulation program.

Dr. Jonathan Baines - Appointed co-director of Spirit of E.A.G.L.E.S., a National Cancer Institute-funded Special Populations Network. Spirit of E.A.G.L.E.S. also is referred to as the American Indian/Alaska Native Initiative on Cancer and focuses on increasing cancer awareness among trial Nations and organizations throughout the U.S. He was the first Alaska Native to receive an MD/PhD from the Mayo Clinic and works closely with the Mayo Clinic Center for Health Equity and Community Engagement Research to foster reconciliation with Tribal Nations.

How can we help provide patient care to historically marginalized patient populations?

Inadequate medical and public health infrastructure impedes patient care to American Indian and Alaska Native patients served by the Indian Health Service. Modernizing technologies and infrastructure can help close these disparities.

Companies can be a part of the solution by engaging with trusted community institutions, such as the Indian Health Service and Tribal and Urban Indian Health Programs.

Keep up with Alec Calac on Twitter and Instagram

Interview by Félix Manuel Chinea, MD
Article written by Oscar Guzmán
Graphic by Chloe Chan

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