Dr. Jacquelynn Arbuckle’s exposure to the medical field began when her younger brother Adrian was born with cystic fibrosis. Arbuckle, only six at the time, recalls a childhood consumed with Adrian’s care. “We spent many days and weeks at the children’s hospital. I watched the doctors and nurses carefully try to find ways to keep Adrian alive,” Arbuckle says. Each year he was expected to have only a limited time to live.
That experience led Arbuckle to dedicate her life to medicine. After graduating from the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) and completing her surgical residency in Massachusetts, Arbuckle returned to Madison, where she is an associate professor and surgeon at UW.
Arbuckle’s path to success was not easy. A native of Spooner, Wis., and an Ojibwe, Arbuckle grew up on the St. Croix reservation. She experienced firsthand how difficult the transition from a reservation community to a college campus can be. Now, as director of the SMPH-based Native American Center for Health Professions, she encourages young people to enroll at UW–Madison. She hopes that, once trained, they can help strengthen communities that often lack medical infrastructure and other resources—the same resources that ultimately saved her brother’s life.
What are some difficulties you experience when recruiting young Native Americans?
Coming from a close, familiar environment to a large campus can leave a student feeling isolated. Our Native culture is part of everyday life, and it can be challenging to feel free to practice our Native teachings without fear of humiliation. The Native American Center for Health Professions attempts to provide a safe cultural home for students and a place for community by providing mentoring, support and guidance as well as opportunities to explore our Native cultures around the state.
Why is it important for more Native American students to enter the medical field?
We need more Native healers in our state and across our nation. We need to be able to provide improved health care in our home communities, and we need to provide good mentors and role models for our young people. Our reservations have limited funds and limited access to health care. We need providers at all levels of health, including public health researchers, nurses, doctors, physician assistants, physical therapists, social workers and pharmacists. At NACHP, we reach out to interested students around the state and encourage them to consider coming to UW for their education. We are able to provide rotations at tribal clinics for those who are interested in this experience. During the rotations, students are exposed to true patient-centered, coordinated care as well as a wealth of cultural experiences.
How do you maintain your connection to the St. Croix reservation?
Mainly through my family. I go home routinely and spend time there. I have made connections with our tribal health director as well as our education director, and we are working on ways to improve resources and motivate young people together.
Photo courtesy of University Communications