Navajo Nation Continues Expanding Indigenous Healthcare Workforce through UCSF HEAL Initiative

PHOTO: Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez stands with UCSF HEAL Alumni including Navajo Fellows
Dr. Adriann Begay, Dr. Cristina Rivera Carpenter and Dr. Marla Yazzie in front of Window Rock Tribal Park
Wednesday, Feb 9, 2022

“With over 60 Navajo health professionals growing their leadership through HEAL and 20 physicians having taken permanent positions on the Navajo Nation after their fellowship, the Nez-Lizer Administration supports HEAL in their efforts to expand their tribal health support initiatives nationwide and be sustainably funded through partnerships with Indian Health Services and other US government agencies.”

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – On Wednesday, February 9, 2022, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Navajo Department of Health (NDOH) Executive Director Dr. Jill Jim met with University of California San Francisco’s Health Equity, Action & Leadership Initiative (HEAL) co-founder Dr. Sriram Shamasunder in Window Rock, Ariz., to discuss and strengthen the Navajo Nation’s ongoing partnership to help expand the Indigenous Healthcare workforce on the Navajo Nation.

In 2020, President Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer welcomed several HEAL team members that arrived to the Navajo Nation from the state of California to help the Navajo Nation’s frontline workers at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

HEAL trains and transforms frontline health professionals by building a community dedicated to serving the under-served. Since 2015, the HEAL Initiative has served over 25,000 Navajo patients, annually, and supported 165 healthcare workers through its two-year fellowship program. HEAL fellows have filled key vacancies in nine of the Navajo Nation’s hospitals and clinics, including a “solidarity team” of 40 additional doctors and nurses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need more Navajo professionals in the healthcare field. Our young people and allies through programs like the HEAL hold a great deal of valuable information we need to continue our Navajo way of life teachings while updating our systems and community initiatives. We envision being able to take on a lot more responsibilities to embrace true self-governance through T’áá Hwó Ají Téego, self-determination, and empowering our healthcare workers is a major step in that direction. We recognize and thank the HEAL medical team for standing shoulder to shoulder with our frontline warriors throughout this pandemic,” said President Nez.

During the visit, President Nez and NDOH Executive Director Dr. Jim also commended HEAL Co- founder Dr. Shamasunder and former Navajo HEAL fellows Dr. Adriann Begay, Dr. Cristina Rivera Carpenter, and Dr. Marla Yazzie for their leadership and going above and beyond the healthcare services they provide to the Navajo people.

Dr. Cristina Rivera Carpenter, HEAL Alumni and Nurse (left), Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez (center) and Dr. Marla Yazzie (right), HEAL Alumni and physician at Window Rock Park, AZ.

HEAL alumni, Dr. Marla Yazzie, noted during the discussion that the group is a part of the few Indigenous physicians that make up less than 0.4% of all practicing physicians in the United States.

She stated, “Through the HEAL program, I have been empowered to take care of my people. I feel very strongly that the caliber of people the program brings into our facilities is tremendous.”

NDOH Executive Director Dr. Jim added, “The program continues to provide critical medical staffing needs across the Nation throughout the pandemic and the retention rate is a success in keeping professionals here to improve the health of the Navajo people. I truly appreciate their partnership and contributions to the Navajo Nation.”

To date, over 60 Navajo health professionals have participated in the HEAL Initiative, and 20 physicians have taken permanent positions on the Navajo Nation following fellowship experience. The Nez-Lizer Administration continues to support HEAL’s efforts to expand their tribal health support initiatives globally and appreciates their partnerships with the Indian Health Services and the Navajo Department of Health.