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Cherokee Nation, OSU Host Topping out Ceremony for Joint Medical School

Cherokee Nation

Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma State University marked the topping out of their new Tahlequah medical school on Monday.

The final beam for the OSU School of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation was hoisted into position, putting it on track for the first cohort of students to start in August. The future primary care doctors will be trained not only in a rural setting, but also in the largest Indian health care system in the country.

"And so, we’ve got an opportunity to graduate med students who are going to be experienced in dealing with some of the challenges in rural health care, and we think they’ll stay," said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

The medical school is slated to start training 50 future doctors in August, and it will eventually have 200 doctors-in-training at any given time. Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin said the goal is producing primary care doctors for underserved rural areas of northeast Oklahoma, not just for Cherokee Nation.

"I hope people see this as yet another example of the Cherokee Nation stepping forward, putting resources on the table and reaching out with a hand of friendship to the state in a way that we all win," Hoskin said.

Rural America faces a shortage of doctors that will get worse. About half of primary care physicians in the U.S. are 65 or older.

Cherokee Nation officials also hope the medical school encourages more of their younger citizens to become doctors. They and the Chickasaw Nation established a scholarship fund for Native students at the school.

The $40 million, 84,000-square foot school is on the W.W. Hastings Campus.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.