Scores of American Indian youth donned lab coats embroidered with their names and tribal affiliations Saturday before touring Hennepin Healthcare in downtown Minneapolis to learn about careers in medicine.

At least 114 young people from ages 12 to 18 attended the American Indian Youth with Stethoscopes Summit, nearly twice as many as attended the program's launch in 2023. Some learned how to draw blood using faux arms, while other delivered babies through practice with a model. Most visited with students and professionals in health care, learning about challenges in the field and collecting tips for success.

Organizers said 23 tribes from Minnesota and Wisconsin were represented. Such inclusion is crucial to Dr. Thomas Wyatt, Hennepin Healthcare's senior medical director and a member of the Shawnee and Quapaw tribes. Wyatt said many of the young people had never seen an American Indian like him in the medical profession. They are not alone.

"There's between five and six million doctors in the U.S., and 4,000 of them are indigenous," said Wyatt.

The American Medical Association estimates that fewer than 1% of the physician workforce are American Indians or Alaska Natives.

"Because we're so underrepresented in this health care space, formalizing mentoring and showing these youth that they could use us as mentors, and talking about the importance of having a mentor, is really important," Wyatt said. "I think that is what this programming also offers to American Indian youth."

Aida Strom, Hennepin Healthcare's health equity community engagement program manager and a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Nation, said such disparities result in worse health outcomes for American Indians.

Strom said Hennepin Healthcare serves the most Indigenous hospital patients in Minnesota, but more work could be done.

The young attendees Saturday were impressed by the support offered by Strom and other event organizers. Elijah Denashahart, 15, and Richard Perez, 17, both members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, said they enjoyed learning how to deliver babies and perform medical techniques. Perez said he will consider becoming a surgeon.

Thirteen-year-old Michael Gates, a member of the Cherokee tribe who attended last year, said the summit offers a chance to learn about medicine in an exciting way.

"This is really an experience that everyone should try at least once or twice," he said. "It's just fun to do."

"Building trust after hundreds of years of oppression — that's a big feat, and we're up for it," Strom said, adding that financial support is vital. "These kids get a peek behind the curtain and are like, 'This is what I want to do.' Now we've got to be ready to support them to do that."