By: Ashton Gatewood, MPH, RN, CPH
There are many paths in life, but the American Indian community strives to support its people every step of the way. One of Oklahoma City Indian Clinic’s (OKCIC) staff has felt that support and wants to spread her inspirational story in hopes that it will help bring a sense of togetherness in this time of solitude.
“My time at OKCIC has become a story of resiliency. My story isn’t merely my own, but also that of many of our American Indian community members. I hope that it will encourage others in the knowledge that we are all striving together to overcome obstacles in order to build better lives and brighter futures.
In 2007, I graduated from Mustang High School with honors as the Johnson O’Malley Scholar. After which I attended Oklahoma City University (OCU) where I was named Miss Indian OCU. Upon graduation, I received the Indian Health Services (IHS) Scholarship to attend medical school out-of-state. I was blessed with a loving family, healthy lifestyle as a college athlete, and supportive friends; all of which built the foundation from which I could succeed.
During medical school I experienced disconnect from my family, friends, culture and traditions. This led to poor academic performance. Eventually, I developed test anxiety, then generalized anxiety and finally depression. After struggling for over two years I made one of the hardest decisions of my life and decided to withdraw from medical school. I left my dreams knowing that I wasn’t in a position to be successful.
Yet, I still had a passion for health care. With plans to attend Oklahoma City University for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), I called one of the IHS Scholarship Officers to inquire about recommended repayment sites. With the core values of people first, quality, integrity and professionalism, OKCIC was an ideal site.
I applied twice to OKCIC pharmacy technician positions before receiving a part-time offer, allowing me to continue my studies. I learned time management and teamwork along with how to put people first and provide service above self. Upon completing my BSN and receiving my Registered Nursing license, I applied to the Women’s Health Nurse Navigator position; only to be told that it was going to another candidate. A short-time later the opportunity reopened and I started my first nursing job as the Women’s Health Nurse Navigator in the Public Health department at OKCIC.
With a passion for health promotion and leadership, I began my Masters of Public Health degree in Healthcare Administration and Policy at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in 2016. That same fall, the director position for my department became available. Even though I was an early careerist, I knew that I could do the job and do it well. Therefore, with encouragement from my co-workers, I applied and became the Director of Public Health. Over the next few years, I also served as the Infection Control Nurse, interim Director of Health Promotion Disease Prevention, and most recently as the Director of Grants Management. OKCIC and its leadership have always been supportive, and pushed me to new challenges in order to better serve our American Indian community.
When I learned about the new Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation (OSU-COMCN), I felt called to apply. But yet, I experienced one of my deepest professional conflicts. I knew applying meant leaving OKCIC, but also I failed before; and it wasn’t easy to rebuild my career or personal health and wellness after leaving medical school the first time. However, I had my life lessons and the support of my American Indian community, so I applied and will be attending the OSU-COMCN in the inaugural class of 2024.
It is in gratitude that I leave to attend medical school and hope to one day return to OKCIC as an American Indian physician. I believe in the good work being done by OKCIC, the wisdom of its board of directors, the passion of its leadership, and the caring hearts and hard working hands of its employees. My wish is that other students will find the faith, resolve and support that I did from their community in order to persevere with grit and resilience towards their own dreams.”