What It’s Like to Work at a Tribal Medical Facility

Where are you taking your healthcare career in 2022? Lately we’ve noticed a sharp rise in interest in working with Native American communities. And there’s no doubt that working at an Indian Health Services (IHS) tribal medical facility through Tribal Health can offer a life-changing experience. So we thought we’d share the basics on what to expect and how to get started.

In addition to Tribally run facilities, we serve Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities. IHS is a federally funded agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, serving more than 560 federally recognized American Indian and Alaskan Native tribes. That equals roughly 2 million people throughout the United States. IHS offers inpatient and outpatient healthcare services, clinical care, dental, and pharmacy services – and it is a lifeline for underserved communities.

Surprises, Challenges, and Rewards

Serving patients in a Tribal or Indian Health Service (IHS) medical facility can be radically different from caring for patients in a tier one medical center. Some have limited access to basic utilities. In many tribal communities, up to 35% of residences lack running water and electricity Many facilities are resource challenged. Healthcare staff often find themselves practicing more hands-on care and trauma care than is typical in most hospitals.

As respiratory therapist Dana Wade noted, Tribal facility assignments demand an open mind and collaborative attitude. “Learn the local culture,” she advises. “Also, expect surprises, as well as a lack of the kind of equipment you’re used to.”

In other words, you can expect a few challenges – but most clinicians agree this work is a refreshing opportunity to transform underserved communities on a generational level. In doing so, they reconnect to their sense of purpose. Many providers call it the most rewarding experience in their career.

Starting Your Path to a Tribal Facility Assignment

Here’s a rundown of what to expect:

  • Application Process: The application process for IHS assignments can be cumbersome, thanks to federal guidelines and the facilities’ remote locations. That’s why our credentialing manager helps guide you every step of the way, ensuring all necessary documentation is organized and complete. We take the hassle out of the paperwork so you can focus on providing high-quality care.
  • Cultural and Community Differences: Your new patients may have different needs than the patients you’re used to treating. Some may have discriminatory healthcare experiences in their past and may distrust the healthcare system. Some Tribal nations have cultural practices and standards that will be new to you. We’ll prepare you for these experiences with cultural sensitivity training and information about specific Tribal traditions and language.
  • Remote Locations and Limited Resources: These facilities are often located in rural areas – but you won’t feel isolated. We offer access to our top leadership at all times. If you ever have any questions or concerns during an assignment, or need clinical backup on a care delivery challenge, you can call on your Tribal Health leadership. Our CCO, CNO, medical directors, and others help guide you from the onboarding process to assignment end.
  • Housing and Food: Tribal Health covers all lodging to minimize logistical hassle. While other staffing agencies may skimp on housing, we provide private rooms, shared living spaces, and Wi-Fi. Restaurant options are modest, often limited to fast-food chains and diners, but kitchen amenities allow you to cook healthy meals as well.
  • Team Approach: You are part of our team – and we go beyond simply filling shifts with warm bodies. Our goal is to improve the care delivery model in the communities we serve. Our “one-team” approach supports every member of the Tribal Health family, while striving to fulfill our mission of stronger hospitals and healthier communities.

Are You Ready to Serve in a Tribal Medical Facility?

Working with Indigenous communities and Indian Health Services facilities is more than a job – it’s an opportunity to transform healthcare communities on a generational level. If you’re ready to directly help solve care disparities by offering your expertise to the Tribal and Native populations who need it most, Tribal Health is ready to work with you. Just reach out and we’ll work with you to create a career-changing experience.

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