TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The first class of 54 student doctors to be accepted into the new Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation received their “white coats” on Friday during a small virtual ceremony in Tahlequah that was live streamed.

The first class, which includes 12 Natives, will start classes on Monday, Aug. 3, with the aim to graduate in four years as trained primary care physicians with experience serving rural and Native American populations.

“Today we celebrate a momentous milestone and a historic moment for the Cherokee Nation, for our friends at Oklahoma State University, and for our first class of 54 students who are officially entering the medical profession,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “As we mark the official opening of the first tribally-affiliated medical school in the United States, we know that we will one day look back on this day and what will matter most is whether our efforts have changed lives for the better. I believe that this partnership will advance quality health care for all by allowing us to teach a new generation of medical professionals to serve our communities for years to come. I wish each and every student the best as they begin this journey. They have our full support.”

For the past decade, the Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma State University Center for Health and Sciences have collaborated on the medical school, which is the first on tribal land in the country. The tribe broke ground on the historic 84,000-square-foot medical school building in May 2019 and it is currently under construction on the W.W. Hastings medical campus in Tahlequah.

“These 54 medical students represent the fulfillment of many dreams over many years; to create a medical school in partnership with the largest tribal nation in the heart of Indian Country,” said Kayse Shrum, D.O., OSU-CHS president and OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine dean. “The students can attend medical school, complete their residency training, and practice medicine – all right here in Tahlequah and under the auspices of OSU Medicine and the Cherokee Nation. I can’t think of a better way to attract and train primary care physicians for rural and underserved Oklahoma. This ceremony is historic, and marks a new era in training physicians for our rural communities.”

The OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation focuses on educating primary care physicians who have an interest in providing care to Native and rural populations in Oklahoma. The school will have 16 full-time faculty, five part-time faculty and numerous adjunct clinical faculty.

In addition, synchronized technology-enabled distance learning at OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa will enable students to study with faculty and collaborate with fellow students located in both Tulsa and Tahlequah.

“Getting my white coat makes me feel like my family and my Nation are proud of me,” said Cherokee Nation citizen Charlotte Dawson of Catoosa. “Being in the first class here is an honor and hopefully the class of doctors the next seven generations from now will look back at us, and we do everyone proud.”

The medical school’s teaching space includes an anatomy laboratory, clinical skills lab, osteopathic manipulative medicine lab, standardized patient labs and a simulation center that will feature a state-of-the-art simulation center equipped with life-like, computer-programmed manikins that mimic a number of medical conditions as well as three lecture halls.

The OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation will graduate its first class of doctors in May 2024. Once fully operational, the medical school will provide 200 students with all four years of medical education at the Tahlequah campus, which is certified by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation.

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