November is National Native American Heritage Month, a time to honor the rich cultures, traditions and contributions of Native Americans throughout history.
This month, we also pay tribute to the contributions of Native American physician assistants (PAs) who are instrumental in bridging gaps in health care and ensuring equitable access to medical services.
Native American communities often face health care disparities, including limited access to medical facilities and higher rates of certain health conditions. PAs, with their adaptability and patient-centered approach, play a vital role in addressing these disparities. PAs can serve as liaisons between health care providers and their communities, promoting trust and understanding.
By understanding the cultural nuances, beliefs, and practices of their communities, these health care professionals can build stronger connections with patients, leading to improved health outcomes. National Native American Heritage Month provides an opportunity to highlight the importance of cultural competence in the health care field.
Among those highlighted on their website is husband and wife PA team Arnold Ketchum, PA-C, and Nicolette McDermott-Ketchum, PA-C, who work on a Navajo reservation.
Ketchum reflects on some of the accomplishments of working with other Native Americans: “My accomplishment is coming back to the Reservation and working with my own people and making a difference as far as the health care of my patients.”
Benjamin Olmedo, PA-C, is another PA who has worked with the Indian Health Service providing health care to Native tribes. In his video interview, he speaks of some of the challenges and rewards: “Some of the challenges are navigating social injustice and how that impacts health, trying to improve the health of the community, building and gaining trust. I think those are some of the challenges…that you have working with indigenous people.” He adds that it has been extremely rewarding to have “the opportunity every day to work with indigenous people and to help improve their lives and the lives of their community.”
Explore more stories from PAs working with Native communities on the PA History Society’s website.
As we recognize National Native American Heritage Month, let’s also underscore the significance of diversity in the health care workforce. According to the 2022 Statistical Profile of Certified PAs 0.3% of Board Certified PAs identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native. Encouraging and supporting individuals from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers as PAs, or other health care professionals, enhances the overall quality of health care services.