A framed picture of a dirt road with low hanging clouds and forested landscape hangs in the office of Siobhan Wescott, MD, the new endowed professor and director of American Indian health in the College of Public Health at UNMC.
An Alaskan Athabascan, Dr. Wescott grew up just outside Fairbanks in a tiny 400-square-foot cabin with an outhouse.
"That picture is a reminder to never forget where I come from," Dr. Wescott said.
Her journey to become the inaugural holder of the Dr. Susan and Susette (Inshata Theumba) LaFlesche Professorship in Public Health at UNMC has taken Dr. Wescott from Alaska to the hallowed halls of Dartmouth College, where she earned a degree in government; the University of California, where she earned her master's degree in public health; Harvard Medical School where she earned her medical degree; and eventually to the University of North Dakota, where she was most recently the co-director of the 48-year-old Indians Into Medicine Program.
Dr. Wescott has always been a staunch advocate for Alaskan Natives and American Indians, especially when it comes to issues of health equity and educating the next generation. She has cultivated a nationally recognized voice, especially through her work with the American Medical Association.
She said she is delighted to know that the professorship she is stepping into at UNMC is named after Dr. Susan and Susette LaFlesche, two sisters from the Omaha Tribe whose lives spanned the 19th and 20th centuries.
"Dr. Susan was the first Native American physician, quite a feat in Victorian times when only one medical school in the world accepted women," Dr. Wescott said. "Susette and Dr. Susan were tireless public health advocates for American Indians and those living in rural Nebraska."
|The endowed professorship was made possible by Carol Swarts, MD, shown here in 2015.|
These strong women, Dr. Wescott said, are reminiscent of another key figure without whom this endowment would not be possible.
"Dr. Carol Swarts is an unstoppable force of nature who well into her retirement has continued to serve others as locum tenens (a physician who steps in and temporarily fulfills the duties of another physician)," Dr. Wescott said. "It's just amazing to me how she gives so selflessly of her time."
Inspired by the LaFlesche sisters and Dr. Swarts, Dr. Wescott said she couldn't pass up the opportunity to lead the new NE - HEALING (Nebraska - Health, Education, Advocacy and Leadership across Indigenous and Native Generations) project at UNMC.
"There are very few endowed professorships for American Indians in health. This is an acknowledgement that the status quo is not meeting the needs of local tribes and American Indians/Alaska Natives in general," she said.
"It's an exciting opportunity to make a better system and take the resources of UNMC and coordinate better to address chronic illness and health disparities among the American Indian people of this state and the region."
Dr. Swarts said she created the Dr. Susan and Susette (Inshata Theumba) LaFlesche Professorship in Public Health as a tribute to their lives of service, healing and advocacy for Native people. It is in this spirit, that she hopes Dr. Wescott will carry forward the work of Dr. Susan and Susette LaFlesche.
"It's obvious that one of the neglected areas of public health in the state is among our American Indian population, and to get someone of Dr. Wescott's caliber who understands the challenges of those communities, will hopefully greatly impact the health of the tribes," Dr. Swarts said.
Both Dr. Wescott and Dr. Swarts said any impact will only be brought about by building trust first.
"It takes time to build trust, and you can only do that by listening," Dr. Wescott said.
Dr. Swarts agreed, adding that partnerships will be forged only through listening, asking the tribes what they know their needs are and coming alongside in collaboration with them.
Dr. Wescott said one of the first things she would like to do is invite the tribes and American Indians in the state to take part in creating a memorial quilt for those in their communities who lost their lives to COVID-19.
"To help us mourn our loved ones and heal together," she said.
In welcoming Dr. Wescott to the UNMC College of Public Health Dean Ali Khan, MD, MPH, said: "Dr. Wescott has traveled a long road for her education and public health practice as an Alaskan Native to her new home in Omaha. We are excited to welcome her to inspire us to be better health partners with native and indigenous communities. And we thank Dr. Carol Swarts for her generous gift to make this endowed professorship possible."
Welcome Dr. Wescott to Nebraska! I recently moved from Omaha and worked as a health and social advocate for the Native community. You will be welcomed by many and look forward to your contributions to the Nebraska Native community. Congratulations! Cassie Rhoads-Carroll Citizen of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Nations of OK
Wow! I'm so inspired already. Welcome Dr. Wescott to UNMC College of Public Health. And thank you Dr. Swarts.
I'm so excited Dr. Wescott will be joining UNMC College of Public Health.
Thanks to Dr. Swarts for once again coming through for UNMC. She is the BEST! Kudos to Dr. Wescott.
On behalf of the Native community and Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition, I want to congratulate and welcome Dr. Wescott. Also we thank Dr. Swarts for her generous gift.
Welcome Dr. Wescott!!
Congratulations Dr. Wescott! To hold the LaFlesche Professorship and to have you here with us less than 100 miles away from the home of Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte is such an honor and testament to your hard work! Welcome and we wish you the very best.
Welcome to UNMC Dr. Wescott!
Welcome, Dr. Wescott!!
Congratulations, and welcome to UNMC, Dr. Wescott!
Welcome to UNMC Dr. Wescott! Great to have you on board.
Thank you Dr. Carol Swarts. Welcome Dr. Wescott!
Congratulations and Welcome, Dr. Wescott! We are definitely blessed you chose UNMC; what an amazing legacy to honor in Dr. Susan and Dr. Susette, and build as your own!
Welcome! Dr. Wescott to UNMC!
Congratulations! We are so blessed to have you at UNMC.