A career in the medical field had not occurred to Mia Hutchinson. Until now.

The high school junior is among 32 Native American students at Mazama High School who have joined On Track OHSU!, an Oregon Health & Science University college-career readiness program that targets underrepresented student populations and has supports and structures in place to help them pursue medical careers. Mazama kicked off its new partnership with On Track on March 3 with an introductory meeting in the high school library.

It was then that Hutchinson heard about Jared Delaney, a Klamath Tribal member and 2016 Henley High school graduate who is currently in his second year of medical school at OHSU. What caught the teenager’s attention was that Delaney, like herself, is Native American.

“That was inspiring,” she said. “I haven’t seen or heard about very many Native American doctors.”

OHSU created On Track in 2013 with a goal of increasing the number of underrepresented students pursuing careers in the biomedical fields. 

“Research shows that positive health outcomes increase dramatically in communities of color when providers in those communities come from a similar cultural background as the patients they serve,” said Will Hess, Klamath Falls community liaison for On Track OHSU!. “Part of the goal is to increase the number of providers of color to better serve Oregon’s diverse population.”

Currently, On Track works with schools in Klamath, Jefferson, Marion, and Multnomah counties. The Klamath County program started in 2019 at Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School and is a partnership between OHSU, the Klamath County School District, and The Klamath Tribes. This year, it expanded to Mazama and will launch at Brixner Junior High School later this spring. All three schools have a high number of Tribal students.

In Chiloquin, the program has helped students gain insight into careers in health sciences and biomedical engineering and continues to expose middle school students to lessons preparing them for potential career pathways to consider as high school students, Hess said.

Sergio Cisneros, vice principal at Mazama High School, believes On Track will support local Native American students interested in health and science careers.

“OSHU is investing in underrepresented communities and encouraging tribal students to pursue careers in medical fields because public health is better served with a diversified workforce,” he said. “They send medical professionals into the classrooms to team teach or host workshops, and students get to meet professionals who look like them and have similar backgrounds.”

Hess said On Track will continue adding to its Mazama programming next year, including fall and spring interviews with seniors to learn about their future education plans and the supports they would need.

Plans include in-person and virtual visits from professionals working in health and science fields, hands-on experiences with visits to OHSU Simulation Centers, and opportunities to participate in “deep dive” clinical shadow and biomedical research for older high school students. On Track not only organizes opportunities, but also helps pay for travel expenses to and from events.

Mazama counselor Kay Sea Bailey is excited about the partnership and program.

“The No. 1 barrier is these students don’t always know what opportunities are available,” she said. At Mazama, 180 of the school’s 650 students identify as Native American.

On Track will host a second introduction session in May. Students who want to join the program, should contact the school’s counseling office.

The program’s commitment to students begins in the sixth grade and continues through high school graduation. After they graduate, students have the option of remaining in contact with On Track staff as they navigate their next steps.

Mazama’s On Track students have been invited to attend a special On Track to Health Careers Fair next month at Oregon Tech. Health and biomedical professionals from OHSU, Oregon Tech, and the local community will be on hand to help students explore options and provide information. Mazama students will be joined by students from Chiloquin and Madras.

Hutchinson doesn’t yet know what she wants to do after high school, but she is excited about the opportunities. She plans to take advantage of the supports offered by On Track, including field trips to colleges and career fairs.

“This program will definitely open my eyes to what is out there,” she said. “I do feel like it will help me in my future.” For more information, go to their website: https://www.ohsu.edu/education/track-ohsu.