A healer on the rise

By

Rebecca Howe

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here .

Aaron Bia is a global health major in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and a Navajo from Canyon De Chelly, Arizona.

“I grew up on the reservation,” he said. “My family advocated the importance of education and maintaining my traditions while balancing a modern life.”

It was his family that influenced Bia to pursue a career as a translational physician, a role that he feels will allow him to best serve the American Indian community.

After a rigorous interview process, Bia was recently accepted into the University of Arizona’s Pre-Medical Admissions Pathway (P-MAP) program, moving him another step closer to his goal.

As Bia wraps up his undergraduate studies and prepares for graduation, he reflects on his ASU experience and discusses his plans for the future.

Question: First of all, what inspired you to choose the medical field?

Answer: My pathway to medicine consisted of various experiences that confirmed my intentions of attending medical school. Growing up on the Navajo Nation, I was able to observe my grandfather heal patients from a holistic perspective to balance the individual physically, mentally and culturally. After completing clinical experiences, conducting research and fulfilling leadership roles, I aspire to emulate my grandfather and continue to pursue my education in contemporary medicine to serve the American Indian population as a translational physician.

Q: What does it mean to be a translational physician for the American Indian community?

A: As a translational physician, I would integrate both research and medical practices to better address the growing health issues of obesity and non-communicable diseases in American Indian communities. In many tribal nations, access to health care is scarce, especially in rural communities where there is a shortage of physicians.

Q: What field of medicine would you like to work in someday?

A: Currently, I am interested in cardiology as a future profession. Additionally, I hope to conduct clinical research within my academic community to educate and prevent health disparities.

Q: Before you were accepted into the University of Arizona’s P-MAP program, you had to go through a pretty tough interview process. What was that like?

A: Prior to the interview, I was very excited because I have spent most of my undergraduate education preparing for this moment. At the same time, I was a little nervous because this was a medical school interview! The interview process was very fast-paced and I got to meet with interviewers from multiple disciplines. Surprisingly, I began to enjoy the process and was more comfortable as I progressed through the stages.

Q: How did your time at ASU help prepare you for that interview?

A: Having a broad background of health disciplines, volunteering experience, and research was helpful in my preparation for the interview. I believe that my foundation in global health provided a holistic perspective to analyze health through cultural and social factors. Additionally, my communication and critical thinking skills that I had gained through my previous experiences at ASU were useful.

Q: You did quite a number of internships during your time at ASU. Can you tell me about your internship with FitPHX last spring?

A: My FitPhx internship with the City of Phoenix and ASU Obesity Solutions provided a great opportunity to deliver public health education to Hispanic middle school children from low-income families in Phoenix. My professional role as a data and field intern was a very fulfilling experience. I also connected personally with the kids on an individual level … their stories resonated with me because their life challenges were very similar to American Indian challenges of domestic violence, stereotypes, alcoholism and obesity. Instilling hope and providing healthy lifestyle coaching to kids was an inspiring experience that continues to motivate me to serve my local Arizona community.

Q: Do you plan to continue working with youths, either in your profession or your free time?

A: In the future, I would be happy to give my time to talk to the youth about the importance of dreaming big and becoming a changemaker in the community. I would also like to serve as a mentor for students that are pursuing a health-care career or by being a source of support for students.

Q: What extracurricular activities were you involved in at ASU?

A: I was the previous facilitator for the American Indian Council at ASU. One of my proudest accomplishments as a leader was to organize and execute Native American Heritage Month in November, an annual campaign that promotes the cultural diversity of Native American students across all ASU campuses. The experience was filled with many adversities that ultimately helped me with problem solving, resiliency and confidence. My leadership role has been the most meaningful experience in my life, because I was able to apply my charisma and skill of public speaking to initiate a positive change in my community.

Q: Did you receive any other opportunities to serve through ASU?

A: One of my most impactful service projects was my involvement in the ASU Tribal Nations Tour in summer 2014, where I traveled to the Navajo and Zuni tribal nations to promote college education to Native American students. I personally understand the lack of college representation in tribal schools due to their geographical isolation. I would not be where I am now if a college representative had not come to my school. On this tour, I had the opportunity to inspire students by explaining my successes and challenges as a Native student at a university. Connecting with these students left me feeling inspired to achieve my own goals.

Q: What other memories will you take away from ASU when you graduate?

A: Since my arrival as a freshman in 2012, one of my greatest sources of support has been my involvement in the ASU Medallion Scholarship program, a community that engages in a variety of service projects and meets every month to help us balance our lives as Sun Devil college students. Whether we are studying for finals or attending football games, I can always rely on my Medallion family for being there.

Written by Mikala Kass, School of Human Evolution and Social Change