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NCI Brings Native Americans to Visit NIH

Representatives of the Cherokee and Navajo tribes and young people from as far away as Alaska met at NIH on July 26 to begin a day of tours, speeches and visiting. In hopes of presenting them with an exciting introduction, the National Cancer Institute hosted 13 inspirational Native American fellows and scholars, joined later in the day by 10 more minority students, all involved in biomedical research or health policy. NCI's Office of Diversity and Employment Programs coordinated the visit.

The guests came from three different summer programs: the Harvard Four Directions Summer Research Program and two programs from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation — the Barbara Jordan Congressional Scholars Program and the Native American Health Policy Fellowships. This is the second year in a row that the diversity office has sponsored such an event but the first year that students from the Four Directions participated. Both of the Kaiser Foundation programs provide their students and professionals opportunities to learn more about national health and welfare policy. The Four Directions Program participants, undergraduate and graduate Native Americans who are interested in becoming physicians or in careers in biomedical research, conduct research with Harvard faculty members and have opportunities to attend seminars and to observe clinical sessions.

Along their tour, they met with NCI director Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach and NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein. "Life's like a trapeze act with swinging rings," said von Eschenbach. "You've got to reach out and grab. In order to get to the higher ring, you have to let go of the last one. Trust that you have something extraordinary to give. Be flexible, optimistic and trust (yourself)."

NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein (third from l) visits with three Kaiser Family Foundation Native American Health Policy fellows. They are (from l) Helen Pootoogooluk, Mark LeBeau and Herminia "Minnie" Frias.

Kirschstein, who has been at NIH for 46 years, told the students some of NIH's history and how it evolved. "It's a wonderful place to work," she said. She wanted to add one thing to von Eschenbach's advice: "Follow your noses," she said. "If it seems and feels right, even if it seems like a long shot, take it."

The visitors also met with Dr. Yvonne Maddox, deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. They toured the Clinical Center and the National Library of Medicine and lunched with representatives of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. They also heard about NIH opportunities from Presidential Management Interns, the director of the Office of Loan Repayment and Scholarship and an official of the NIH Academy.

"It was a dream of mine to visit the NIH for a long time," said Rachel Okabe, a Native Hawaiian participating in the Four Directions program. "It has exceeded my expectations. Thank you."

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