TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) -- Today, Oklahoma State University and the Cherokee Nation welcomed the inaugural class of doctors in the first tribally-affiliated medical school in the country.
Fifty-four doctors received their white coats today symbolizing the start of their medical career, and what OSU and the Cherokee Nation hope is the start of better healthcare for rural Oklahoma and American Indians across the country.
Putting on a white coat is the first step in a doctor's medical career, Natasha Bray, associate dean of the OSU Medicine at Cherokee Nation campus, said.
"It really symbolizes the transition from being a student, being a person who is part of the community, to taking on the role of a healer," Bray said.
Although not all family and friends could be there to celebrate because of COVID-19, there was another big thing to celebrate.
William Pettit is the dean at the new campus.
"This is the real culmination of over a decade of relationship development between the Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma State University," Pettit said.
It's the first tribally-affiliated medical school in the country. A dream almost a decade in the making.
"The mission has been to create and train primary care physicians to take care of rural and underserved Oklahoma," Petitt said.
In 2018, they announced the school was being built, and in 2020, they will fill it with 54 new students, both online and socially distanced in-person.
The Cherokee Nation is hoping this provides more doctors for rural Oklahoma and knowledge on American Indian healthcare, said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief, Chuck Hoskin, Jr.
"The OSU Medical School at the Cherokee Nation is the most important and exciting thing going on in healthcare Indian Country, not just the Cherokee Nation, but across Indian Country," Hoskin said.
That partnership will serve as an example for all tribal nations across the country. The Cherokee Nation announced last week that they are welcoming First Lady Melania Trump to visit the facility in late summer or fall.
"I think it's great that when the United States said, 'We want to send out the First Lady and other officials to see the very best in Indian healthcare', where did they go? They turned to the Cherokee Nation," Hoskin said.
There is not an official date on the First Lady's visit. The construction of the remainder of the school will be complete in December.