BELCOURT, N.D. (KXNET) — According to the CDC, American Indians and Alaska Natives face lower quality of life and are disproportionately affected by many chronic conditions when compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

One solution to these health disparities is to increase the number of Indigenous healthcare providers.

The Turtle Mountain Community College is a tribal college located in Belcourt.

The tribal college offers an array of bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, and certificate programs, including some in the healthcare field.

The college received the Health Professions Opportunity Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for these programs.

“The purpose of that grant was to increase health education access through rural training. And part of that is essentially taking Native American people, or Indigenous people, or just people from an impoverished area in general, and giving them the opportunity to pursue higher education in a healthcare field because these are high-paying fields. There’s a lot of need for people to work in these fields,” said Tyler Parisien, the Medical Laboratory Technician program director/instructor.

Although the college is a tribal college, it’s open to people of all racial backgrounds.

Parisien says since he’s taken over the two-year MLT program, he’s had 100% enrollment of Indigenous students.

“Our people, our Native American people, are underrepresented in all areas. Specifically, STEM, more specifically healthcare, so programs like ours allow us to train our own people to take care of our own people. And even though medical laboratory technician is not a direct patient care program, we’re still part of the healthcare team,” said Parisien.

The Phlebotomy program is a nine-month certificate program and the instructor has spent over 40 plus years working at Indian Health Service.

She says it’s important for representation in the healthcare system.

“Because of their culture, being able to understand their culture and their feelings toward health care so when they have another Indigenous person being able to take care of them, it puts them at ease and it helps them to be able to relate. And really get a good, rounded healthcare,” said Marilyn Delorme, the Phlebotomy program director and instructor.

Nikki Champagne is an enrolled tribal member and she’s currently in the phlebotomy certificate program.

“I have a very important woman in my life that’s been there for several years and she’s an RN. And I look up to her so that’s what made me do it,” said student Nikki Champagne.

She also says it’s important to see Indigenous people in healthcare because it would make her more comfortable to be treated by someone who looks like her.

She also adds she likes the program she’s in because it fits in with her schedule of working and being a mom.

“It’s very easy. I work a full-time job so my instructors are very understanding when it comes to work and going to school and having a family,” said Champagne.

Parisien says another benefit of Indigenous people going into the healthcare field is that it helps fill the workforce gap in rural communities.

Next week’s final Indigenous Health story will cover the Department of Indigenous Health based at the University of North Dakota.

The department focuses on Indigenous health and health equity.