What made you decide to become a pediatrician? Describe your journey into medicine.
I am from a small town in North Dakota and we had some pretty great role models for doctors, very dedicated people. I am an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe. My mother really wanted her children to work for the Indian Health Service (IHS), and as it turns out, three of us ended up with dedicated careers in the IHS.
My pediatric rotation was on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona with a really great group of pediatricians. I met those people and felt immediately inspired to do what they were doing. My husband and I worked as pediatricians on reservations from 1997-2009, then he commuted to work on my home reservation in North Dakota until 2017. In 2010 I started working at the Indian Health Board (IHB) of Minneapolis, focusing on the urban American Indian population.
I am a pediatrician for the IHB of Minneapolis, a federally qualified health care center that is partially funded by the IHS. I love my job and the mission of the IHB. I enjoy working with families from the Phillips neighborhood and beyond.
The Native American population that you work with is affected by major health disparities. How does your knowledge of these disparities change the way you deliver care?
I am cognizant that poverty and homelessness affect many children in Minnesota and I feel proud that pediatricians are on the front lines to help these families. All pediatricians are do-gooders because so many of the patients we care for are on Medicaid. Poverty, generational trauma and discrimination are the root cause of so many of the problems children face. Caregivers are under tremendous stress. People do not have generations of success in Minnesota to fall back on, but they often do have relatives who will take them in.
People are stressed by extended family drug use. People are affected by the drug trade, addiction, human trafficking, child neglect. Gentrification of neighborhoods and loss of affordable housing are big issues right now with many working families living in long-term shelters, which are not rent-free. Temporary living is actually costly and very difficult to secure.
I try to be very easy going about my schedule, not being too strict about people being late because they may have had a bad day one way or another. We provide transportation for all scheduled appointments.
Our health center is making strides toward integrating Native culture into practice and I am trying to be part of that by starting a program to provide kits to help moms and caregivers save the baby’s umbilical cord to be put into a beaded umbilical amulet, a symbol of the permanent connection between mom and baby. Many tribes follow this tradition. This is a project our clinic is sponsoring and my daughter is working on the logistics as a school project.
Which pediatric issues concern you most?
Preventable birth defects related to maternal alcohol/drug use and other stresses on the uterine environment. Helping mothers who are struggling with addiction. Integrating the social determinants of health into medical practice. Increasing awareness of Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) and Plan B for teens and moms. Pediatricians could do a better job with birth control.
What’s one thing most people are surprised to learn about you?
I am a healthy foods person, but do not like to cook or spend time in the kitchen. Sometimes I just cut up vegetables and fruit for dinner and that’s it. I work 3 days per week and I have a wonderful, organized husband who loves to see me use my creative brain.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love Minneapolis parks and natural spaces. I run around the Chain of Lakes, often two or three lakes.
I am an advocate for Minneapolis Public Schools and feel strongly that public schools are the foundation of democracy. There are so many needs in the public schools and I have volunteered about 100 different ways (and had lots of fun doing it). I like to garden and have organized the Kenwood Elementary School Garden since 2010.
My main hobby is watching my kids’ activities: soccer, dance, music, swimming, running, etc. I would like to do more art and sewing.