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Indian Health Service The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives

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Cultural Insights

Picture of a native elder discussing native culture with two young adult.

American Indian and Alaska Native communities are rich in culture, wisdom and Tribal practices that have endured for thousands of years. As an Indian health professional, you will gain an awareness of generational differences in how you, as a provider of care, are perceived. You will encounter and treat individuals, some of whom are likely to possess a deep spiritual connection to the land and all living things. But ultimately, a community's collective health and well-being is your day-to-day mission. Whatever you bring to your assignment, your skills, passion and genuine interest in the community's history and culture is a good place to start and, for many, proves to be a life-changing experience.

Indian health clinicians often live in close proximity to each other within the communities they serve. Upon arrival, you will quickly understand why those who proactively immerse themselves in the Indian community enjoy a more holistic and satisfying career experience. Seek out opportunities on your own and with new friends and colleagues.

You will soon find that culturally and linguistically, Native Tribes are by no means all alike, even though there exists common threads – not the least of which are health issues, as well as general beliefs about health and illness, respect for the mind-body connection, an emphasis on the use of natural remedies and the inclusion of trusted, traditional healers, when desired.

Your understanding of a community's culture and traditions will go a long way toward establishing yourself within the community. This in turn, should empower your ability to communicate and initiate effective treatment. Approach this unique opportunity with an open mind and a willingness to adapt to living and working within a remote community.