By Shelbie Shelder, medical student at University of Minnesota Medical School
Boozhoo (Hello)! My name is Shelbie Shelder and my tribe is the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Michigan. My clan is the Makwa (bear) clan. I grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, otherwise known as “Maskiiminong” (swamp).
I was raised in a family that suffered from the effects of health inequities. I was unaware of the health care access inequities until I began attending college at Michigan State University (MSU). Every student at MSU has access to a health clinic simply in virtue of being a student.
Growing up, my family, because of the intermittent employment of my parents, never had continuous access to health care except through our tribal clinic, which is one hundred miles from my home.
I have witnessed several of my family members struggle with health care access because we live off the reservation. For instance, my brother was rushed into emergency surgery where we live and because he was cared for off the reservation and contract health services did not cover the care, the surgery put him into thousands of dollars of debt. My direct experience with the challenges of health care access is what truly motivated me to pursue a career as a physician.
In high school, my decision to attend college was based on my dream to create a better life for my community. I truly think education is powerful in the way that it allows one the ability to overcome poverty.
I came to college as a first-generation college student planning on majoring in the sciences. During my first year at MSU, a minority scholars program introduced me to the field of public health.
My journey started with pursuing several public health research opportunities in college. Upon reflection on my public health research experiences, I realized that I did not see myself doing public health research as a career. Likewise, my interest in in medicine grew throughout college and aligned well with my passion for preventive care and my future goal of providing health care to my Native people.
Throughout medical school, I have struggled to fit into a world where not a lot of people look like me. I often feel misunderstood and fear I am not good enough for medicine. However, I have found that finding mentors, confiding in my Native American peers, and remaining active in the Native American community have all served to support me during these rough times.
My advice for Native students interested in medicine includes the following:
- Find mentors and do not hesitate to contact me via my Instagram page @rezziesinmedicine
- Do not let your idea of success be dominated by a colonized worldview. You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams!
- Remind yourself everyday that you are more than capable of doing anything you set your mind to. Do not give up!