Calista scholarship recipient enters medical school to serve rural Alaskans

Calista scholarships and internships supported Alex McLearen on her path to medical school

June 18, 2020 | Adapted from 2019 Annual Report to Shareholders

Calista Corporation scholarship recipient Alex McLearen has a very simple story to tell anyone wondering why she’s studying to become a doctor.

Shareholder Alex McLearen entered medical school at the University of North Dakota in fall 2019. 

“I get to tell people that my grandmother in Chevak decided when I was six. It was her idea and I ran with it,” Alex says.

Alex thinks her grandmother, the late Jeanette Paniyak, asked her to pursue medicine due to healthcare needs in the Calista Region.

“She saw a need in our communities for doctors who understand what it means to be Alaskan and have experience in rural Alaska.”

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With help from Calista Education and Culture scholarships, Alex graduated in 2017 from the University of Alaska Anchorage. In 2019, she started medical school at the University of North Dakota, where she is one of seven Native students participating in the university’s Indians Into Medicine program.

Entering medical school required significant stamina and discipline. Alex prepared for her entrance exam while working as a medical clerk at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. “I wouldn’t let being tired after a workday get in the way. It only gave me more energy to get the studying done.”

Alex also gained crucial career skills by interning three summers with Calista Education and Culture, Inc. She appreciated guidance from Calista Corp. President/CEO Andrew Guy given to interns on Yuuyaraq, the Yup’ik way of being. These internships and her ANTHC job prepared her to thrive in the professional environment of medical school, she says.

She also gives a shout out to her peers. “Every single program I’ve ever done, I’ve heard about from another Native student.”

“There are a lot of efforts to list all of the opportunities for Native students, but nobody really knows everything that’s out there,” she explains. “Talking to peers is the way I found every opportunity. It’s an indigenous way.”

After graduating, Alex sees herself doing a residency in internal medicine and getting out to the Region as soon as possible. She is motivated to help improve the quality of care for patients who travel between rural Alaska and Anchorage.

As a future Native physician, she’d like to find ways to make it easier for families to remain connected to their ill relatives. “We do very well at loving each other as Native people, but federal privacy laws make it so hard for our people to take care of each other.”

Her advice for young Shareholders and Descendants thinking about their future is to not get overwhelmed. There are many steps involved in making your dreams come true.

“Almost every day I’m in awe that I’m actually in medical school. There were so many days I thought I should give up and not even try to be a doctor. But even though it was hard, it was exciting the whole way through.”

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