Bighorse named Cherokee Nation’s Vinita Health Center medical director
Cherokee Nation citizen and Vinita Health Center Medical Director Dr. Amanda Bighorse visits with Three Rivers Health Center Medical Director James Baker on March 26 in Vinita. Bighorse became Vinita Health Center’s medical director on March 12. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BARTLESVILLE – Amanda Bighorse, a Cherokee Nation citizen and doctor of osteopathic medicine, is now serving the Cherokee Nation as medical director of the Vinita Health Center.
A 2011 graduate of the Oklahoma State University College for Osteopathic Medicine, Bighorse chose osteopathy after seeing her father face cancer and her grandmother face diabetes.
“I always had the heart for helping people. That’s something that’s always been a part of who I am. Medicine always appealed to me. The different disease processes and medications always appealed to me,” she said.
She said she was interested in seeing how diseases work and how treatments are used on ailments.
“My grandmother was full-blood Cherokee, and her father was a medicine man. He had taught her a lot of that type of medicine. So he had kind of passed some of those things down to her. Growing up, that was a huge influence on me,” Bighorse said.
She said she initially wanted to work in pediatric oncology, but chose family medicine so she could treat multiple generations from infants to elders.
“Family medicine really appealed to me because I could treat a whole family. Not only treat them, but learn about them and learn about the whole dynamic of the family and how that kind of related to their health care needs and why they do the things they do, what hinders them. That’s fascinating to me, too, as well,” she said.
After graduating, Bighorse started an OSU rural residency at Northeastern Health System and CN W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah.
“I was one of the first classes to participate in their rural track. They were trying to increase the number of primary care physicians in rural areas. I’m a family medicine physician, so it’s a family medicine residency,” she said.
After her residency ended in 2014, Bighorse began her first job as a family medicine physician at Hastings in the primary care clinic.
“I had done rotations while in medical school at Hastings, so I got to kind of see…some aspect of every department at the hospital. Everyone I worked with was wonderful. I was really excited about starting with Cherokee Nation for my first real job,” Bighorse said.
Bighorse, who is part Osage, in 2017 went to work with the Osage Nation in Pawhuska, and moved to Bartlesville to be closer to her job. She said the Osage people embraced her, and she was eager to learn more about the community and culture.
“My son was going to the immersion school, and they were participating in a research grant looking at incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables and how that affects health and how that affects just the family dynamic,” she said. “They had cultural nights, and I was a parent as well as a physician, so I got to hear a lot of the challenges that they face in that community from a different perspective, in a different setting. It was really interesting and really valuable information and helped me even learn more about the culture and how it ties into health.”
After a year working with the ON, Bighorse took a job with the CN as medical director for the Vinita Health Center. Her first day was March 12.
As medical director, Bighorse oversees mid-level staff, participates in meetings about policies and meets with other medical directors.
“It was something that I definitely had to think about. I think being medical director offers a great chance of new experiences and new opportunities. But coming back to Cherokee Nation and coming back to work with the Cherokee people that wasn’t hard (to think about),” she said.
Bighorse said the biggest reward of being in medicine is getting to know her patients and getting them the help they need.
“One of the rewards of being a physician is getting to be a part of something bigger than you, having the ability to speak with people about their health and having them place a type of trust in you that is unique to the profession,” she said.