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Avera Health American Indian Scholarship Program Fund Announces First Scholar

Jackie Hendry

The University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine is partnering with Avera Health to help Native American students pursue a medical degree. The first recipient of the Avera Health American Indian Scholarship Program Fund was announced Wednesday in Sioux Falls. 

Brendan Amiotte is a first-year medical student from Rapid City and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He’s also the first to receive the new $24,000 scholarship. Amiotte has wanted to go into medicine since he helped his dad study to become a registered nurse as a kid. He doesn’t take the scholarship for granted.

“Anytime you can get money to pay for school that you don’t have to pay back with interest is great," he says.

Nationwide, less than one percent of med-school grads are enrolled tribal members. Dr. Mary Nettleman is Dean of the Sanford School of Medicine, and she says cost is one of the biggest barrier for students. She hopes this scholarship will increase the number of Native Americans who enroll at USD.

“On average about 4% of our students are American Indian, which puts us among the top in the country—which shows you how low of a bar it is," she says. "Many medical schools have zero.”

Credit Jackie Hendry
J.R. LaPlante is Director of Tribal Relations for Avera. He says many Native students in professional programs are first or second-generation students. He says mentorship is a key part of this scholarship program.

The opportunity for mentorships is another aspect of the scholarship. J.R. LaPlante is the Director of Tribal Relations for Avera. He says recipients will have internship and other opportunities with Avera doctors and in tribal communities.

“They will not be lacking in mentors when it’s all said and done, because we want them to be well-rounded in their education, and we want them to feel confident in their career choices,” he says.

There’s still time for Brendan Amiotte to make those choices, but he has an idea.

“The plan is right now just to move back to Rapid and try to serve the places where I grew up [that] served me.”

Scholars are encouraged to take their skills to underserved South Dakota communities after graduation.

The scholarship is spread over the course of four years for each recipient, with a new one chosen each year.