NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — In the last edition of our Indigenous Health series, we are taking a look at a doctoral program at a local school.

The University of North Dakota offers a Ph.D. doctoral program in Indigenous Health.

“Our program is really unique in that we have students from Alaska, First Nations in Canada, Hawaii, the islands, across the United States. We currently have 46 students in our program,” said Melanie Nadeau, the education program director, and interim Indigenous health department chair.

The first of its kind in the United States and Canada, it was established as a public health concentration in 2019 and a Ph.D. program in 2020.

The goal is to reduce the gap in disease disparities for diverse populations and promote Indigenous Health.

“Cancer, you’re looking at diabetes. Those are the primary, well I’m from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in Belcourt, North Dakota. And those are the, in working with elders, those were the two that were brought up as key to focus on,” said Nadeau.

And there are many reasons why these issues are in Indigenous communities.

“We can see that all the tribal communities in North Dakota, they have a lower income, they have lower access to resources, healthcare, insurance. So you can just go, you can just go down the line and compare the social determinants of health to the population at large,” said Nadeau.

And that’s why one of the requirements for students is to have experience working with tribal communities.

“There’s a huge opportunity to improve and so once we have scholars that are from the community and strong allies that have worked in the community going out and supporting the work, it’s gonna help advance the health of Native people. Because unfortunately the interventions, there are interventions that are effective, but we can do a lot better,” said Nadeau.

This is why Nadeau says it’s so important to highlight Indigenous Health and offer a program like this.

“Native people are the smallest population in the United States, but with 576 federally-recognized tribes that each have their own culture, language, way of being, access to resources, various land base, we’re the most diverse people in the United States as well,” said Nadeau.

The estimated time to complete the Indigenous Health Ph.D. program is three years, but there are also four-year and five-year tracks. But students have up to seven years to complete the program.

Applications are currently open for the summer 2023 Indigenous Health doctoral program at UND.