The United Health Foundation (UHF) is increasing its support of the American Indian College Fund’s United Health Foundation Tribal Scholars Program with a $430,000 grant to provide 13 scholarships for American Indian and Alaska Natives studying in the health and dental fields.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the opportunity to address disparities in access to healthcare for underserved populations by increasing the number of minority healthcare providers to serve their communities, UHF said.
American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) people lag behind other Americans with regard to health status, UHF said. AIAN people born today have a life expectancy that is 5.5 years less than the US population in all other races (73.0 years to 78.5 years, respectively).
AIAN also people continue to die at higher rates than other Americans from diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and chronic lower respiratory diseases, UHF said, adding that the pandemic means AIAN people with chronic, underlying health conditions are at even greater risk.
Lack of access to a dentist is related to health problems as well, UHF said. Periodontal disease is associated with increased risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. People with poor oral health also are often stigmatized socially and in seeking employment, UHF added.
A major reason for health disparities in AIAN communities includes an insufficient supply of providers of healthcare services.
“The American Indian College Fund is a longstanding partner we are honored to support. Together, we are working to improve the capacity of the healthcare system to ensure Native communities receive the best quality care,” said Tracy Malone, UHF president.
“Through this ongoing partnership, we are living our mission of building healthier communities by developing a modern health workforce that is culturally competent and can provide the right care at the right time,” said Malone.
“The College Fund appreciates that during this pandemic, United Health Foundation is continuing its commitment to our scholars,” said Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund.
“Tribal people use our traditional ways of knowing and good relationships to support public health and the guidelines that will get us through this crisis. Together, we are paving a healthy path for individuals and their families,” said Crazy Bull.
The goal of the American Indian College Fund’s United Health Foundation Tribal Scholars Program is to develop the next generation of Native healthcare providers to serve their communities with personalized, culturally competent care. The UHF has increased its support for the program by $70,000 this year to provide support to additional students.
Rising sophomores who are studying to be a primary care physician, nurse, physician’s assistant, mental and behavioral health worker, dentist, or pharmacist are eligible for the scholarships, which total more than $7,700 per year per student and are renewable for up to three years if students maintain their studies and a 3.0 grade point average. Applications are available online.