Ciciley Littlewolf said she’s been set up to succeed.
The second-year medical student is part of the Indians Into Medicine (INMED) program at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, which assists American Indian students from middle school through medical school.
Littlewolf, who is from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana, grew up loving the idea of studying medicine and wanting to serve her country. She earned her first undergraduate degree in criminal justice and worked with American Indian youth at the Circle of Nations Wahpeton Indian School.
She also serves in the North Dakota Army National Guard, where she is a lieutenant and medic, and has been deployed on a NATO support mission to Kosovo, part of the former Yugoslavia.
After all that, she still wanted to go into medicine.
“I couldn’t let go,” she said.
Littlewolf enrolled at North Dakota State University and earned a degree in zoology to fulfill the science requirements for medical school.
She knew she wanted to earn her M.D. from the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
“I liked the curriculum,” she said. “It’s unique.”
The School is known nationally for its patient-centered learning curriculum that emphasizes interprofessional education directed toward practice in rural communities.
Then she learned about INMED and contacted Kathleen Fredericks, the college coordinator.
“She’s fantastic,” said Littlewolf. “She offered mentorship and advice, and advised me even though I was at a different university and years away from medical school. I emailed her all the time.”
That personal attention is part of what makes INMED a success, said Gene DeLorme, UND’s program director.
“The central concept is family,” said DeLorme. “We provide a family environment. The tribal communities expect that.”
INMED, a federal program, began in 1973 at UND and has graduated 228 physicians and 261 allied health and nursing students, most of whom work in tribal communities. The program works to raise the number of health professionals in American Indian communities, increase the ranks of American Indian health professionals, and improve the level of health and care in American Indian communities.
The program works with more than 200 students each year, ranging from seventh-graders to medical students.
“We are the only program in the United States with our own slots in medicine, occupational therapy, and physical therapy, all at UND,” said DeLorme. They also have two medical slots at the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota.
The program goes far beyond medicine, DeLorme said. “INMED supports students who will be able to work in medical facilities,” he said. That includes students in occupational and physical therapy, nursing, engineering, accountancy, clinical laboratory science, social work and more. INMED also offers a program for students who graduated from two-year tribal colleges, as well as refresher courses for students entering medical school.
Many students are introduced to the program through the INMED Summer Institute, which is held on campus for students in grades 7–12. The goal is to provide academic enrichment and to help students prepare for college.
“The impact on Indian Country goes beyond medicine,” DeLorme said. “We help students see opportunity and learn their dreams are not impossible to accomplish.”
Now in her second year of medical school, Littlewolf said she especially likes the patient-centered curriculum.
“You learn about organ systems all at once,” she said. “It’s integrated and you see how things work together. It’s excellent.”
And she likes the INMED program, which offers advising, study space, computers, tutoring, and more.
“It’s important to have Native American physicians,” said Littlewolf. “They help bridge the cultural gap.”
For one of her medical rotations, Littlewolf spent three weeks in India working with children in the Himalayas. That experience, she said, fueled her desire to work with children. She plans to practice as a family physician or pediatrician on a reservation, and also hopes to set up a mentoring program to encourage children to reach their educational goals.
Helping Littlewolf and others like her fulfill their dreams is DeLorme’s goal.
“It’s a special day when students who began their participation in INMED when they were in the seventh grade walk across the stage of the Chester Fritz Auditorium to receive their medical degrees,” he said.