American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) remain underrepresented in the medical profession. This study sought to understand the supports and barriers that AI/AN students encountered on their path to successful medical school entry.


The research team analyzed qualitative semistructured, one-on-one, confidential interviews with 10 AI/AN medical students to identify salient support and barrier themes.


Supports and barriers clustered in eight categories: educational experiences, competing career options and priorities, health care experiences, financial factors, cultural connections, family and friends, spirituality, and discrimination. Some of the most notable findings of this study include the following: (1) students reported financial barriers severe enough to constrain participation in the medical school application process, and (2) spirituality played an important role as students pursued a medical career.


Promoting AI/AN participation in medical careers can be facilitated with strategies appropriate to the academic, financial, and cultural needs of AI/AN students.