Few people would dispute that health care and education are among the disciplines most profoundly affected by the pandemic.
And Dr. Kayse Shrum — president of the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences and a former member of the state COVID-19 task force — has stood at that intersection.
“Part of my mantra is we’re going to make the best decisions we can today with the information that’s available to us,” she said.
Shrum, who served 15 months as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s secretary of science and innovation, said that with 4 million people in the state, trying to make a plan that made sense for urban centers and rural areas was difficult.
Much easier to understand is Shrum’s joy about the creation of the country’s first tribally affiliated medical school, the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah.
Shrum noted that even though less than 1% of medical students nationally are American Indian, 20% of this new school’s first class is. It’s also more than 50% female.
“It is really going to be transformative for northeastern Oklahoma, rural Oklahoma and tribal communities,” she said.
“Growing up in a rural community, I never was exposed to a medical student,” Shrum said. That exposure … is going to inspire a lot of kids who wouldn’t otherwise start thinking about medicine as a career at a young age.”
Shrum said she was “never really thinking about medicine as a career. But I did like science.”
An accomplished softball player, she thought perhaps she could teach science and coach. It took a physiology professor in college to change her course.
The professor asked why she wasn’t planning to attend medical school. Every other student in the class was — and Shrum had better grades than any of them, he said.
Mentors can help make great things happen.
Part of what led to the creation of the tribal medical school “is we have been building programs and outreach efforts to the American Indian community. I think we’ve been building that pipeline for a long time,” Shrum said.
“It’s one of the highlights of my professional career, for sure.”
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