Hopi students spend summer months as Indigenous Pride Health Workers

Students Kiara Pahovama and Donnieva Lomatska learn about dental care (Photo courtesy of Hopi Health Care Center).

Students Kiara Pahovama and Donnieva Lomatska learn about dental care (Photo courtesy of Hopi Health Care Center).

Instead of facing two months of boredom sitting at home away from friends and classmates this summer, 12 high school and college students from the Hopi and Navajo reservations are taking a college course, shadowing health professionals and helping their communities as Indigenous Pride Health Workers (IPHW) at the Hopi Health Care Center (HHCC).

Rochelle Tungovia, Donnieva Lomatska, Leandra Calnimptewa, Sonja Sockyma, Marlena Huma, Kiara Pahovama, Stephanie Lomakema, Ira Puhuhefvaya, Louis Sisto, Erin Namingha, Ryan Carl and Justin Lee were selected to participate in the program from June 11 to Aug. 3 after submitting applications, including teacher recommendations, general information, and essay questions outlining their interest in health careers.

The IPHW program was initiated in 2002 by the Health Promotion/Disease Prevention (HP/DP) department at HHCC with the overall goal of encouraging local Native American students to pursue careers in the health field and return to the reservation to serve their people. It is believed that the increased sense of community involvement that local students have enable them to better understand and be more invested in the health risks prevalent on the Hopi Reservation. In turn, this strong sense of community connection would make it possible for them to be more effective at combating these problems as health care providers in the future.

Students are shadowing health professionals in the physical therapy, dental, radiology, public health nursing, outpatient nursing, HP/DP, Women and Infant Clinic, social services, laboratory and medical staff departments. Besides their regular duties in the classroom and hospital, the students participate in many other activities and events, including attending a Ropes Course Challenge at Northern Arizona University, taking workshops in digital storytelling, serving as tour guides of HHCC to visiting Upward Bound students from NAU, receiving certification in CPR and first aid, participating in wilderness medical training in Flagstaff and attending a seminar on alcohol and substance abuse in Hotevilla.

Each student is also responsible for completing a research project inspired by health concerns they encountered in their work environment. The project consists of a research paper, a power point presentation, a poster board and some type of handout, such as a brochure or flyer. The projects will be submitted to Harlem Children's Society in New York City where they will be displayed to the larger scientific/research community.

The students have the opportunity to educate the Hopi community on health issues by presenting their projects on Aug. 3 at the Second Annual Indigenous Pride Health Fair at HHCC. Topics include teen pregnancy, methamphetamine and the brain, diabetes, plague on the reservation, pressure ulcers, physical therapy for spinal stenosis, cancer rates among Native Americans, chlamydia on the Hopi Reservation and allergies to media contrast, among others.

In addition to the valuable work experience and insight into health careers students gain from participating in the program, they receive stipends averaging $1,200. Various local and national organizations offered assistance through collaboration with the IPHW program, including Northland Pioneer College (NPC), the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of the Hopi Tribe, Hopi Foundation, Ottens Foundation, Harlem Children Society (HCS), and Northern Arizona Health Education Center (NAHEC).

Students enjoy the program because it gives them a taste of what it would be like to work as a health professional.

"The department I am in is really fun and exciting," said program participant Leandra Calnimptewa. "I've learned so much in the little time I've had with them."

Dr. Anna Lewis, director of both the Health Promotion/Disease Prevention Department and the IPHW program, feels that the program is unique and valuable.

"We have one of the few programs that introduces students to professional positions available in health care here and encourages them to go to college," she said.

However, Lewis emphasizes that the program has an even greater significance.

"We want students to come back to Hopi after they have received their training and education. We foster and instill a responsibility for them to come back," she said.

High school or college students from the HHCC service area, including the entire Hopi Reservation and outlying areas of the Navajo Reservation like Jeddito and Whitecone, who would be interested in participating in the IPHW program in the summer of 2008 can get application materials by contacting Lewis at HHCC at 737-6000 or LaVonne Honyouti at Hopi Jr./Sr. High School at 738-5111. Individuals who do not qualify for the IPHW program but would be interested in volunteering with HHCC in another capacity can contact Lisa Lomavaya at 737-6385.

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