Alex Garnat, OMS I, comes from a family of healers. Inspired by several medicine men in his family, Garnet, who is half Native American, worked as an emergency medical technician for more than two decades. This month, he begins the next chapter in his career as a medical student at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine (BCOM) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The new osteopathic medical school is one of the most diverse in the country. Hispanic students comprise nearly one-fifth of the inaugural class, which also includes 6% African-American students and 2% Native American students, according to a BCOM statement. For comparison, U.S. DO and MD schools on average enroll 0.3% and 0.2% Native American students, respectively.
Diversity at home
BCOM strives to be a model for inclusion as it trains future physicians who will be treating patients in a diverse underserved area. Doña Ana county, where BCOM is located, is 67% Hispanic, more than three times the national average of 17.6%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. At 2.4%, the county’s Native American population is double the national average.
“The first sentence of our mission statement is in Spanish—‘Para la gente y el futuro: For the people and the future,’ ” says BCOM Dean George Mychaskiw, DO. “We don’t put one culture ahead of another. We all learn about other cultures as much as they learn from us.”
Faculty had students’ cultural beliefs in mind when they developed course curricula. The virtual anatomy course offered to first-year students respects Native American students whose culture has a strong taboo against handling dead bodies, Dr. Mychaskiw says.
“I appreciate that BCOM takes Native American cultural beliefs into consideration,” Garnat says.
During the school’s first white coat ceremony, students recited the osteopathic oath in three languages: Navajo, Spanish and English.
“The makeup of faculty, staff and the student body show that the school doesn’t represent one particular culture,” says Michael Davis, OMS I, an African-American student from Los Angeles. “We may come from different cultures and nationalities, but we all share the same goal: to help people.”
The school actively sought students who demonstrated a commitment to providing care to underserved populations. And the goal is to train physicians who will stay in the area, Dr. Mychaskiw says.
The school’s leaders are establishing residency training in areas of the region with a great need for doctors. Dr. Mychaskiw says the school is on its way toward reaching that goal with 108 new residency positions in Las Cruces, 136 in El Paso, Texas, and more being developed in other parts of southeastern New Mexico.
The school’s mission to serve the underserved inspired Omer Chowdhury, OMS I, who is Asian-American, to attend BCOM instead of other medical schools.
“I really admire BCOM’s commitment to serve different groups of people. Within the first week of school, we’re already talking about starting a student-run clinic on campus,” he says.