The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

     The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

Navajo President Buu Nygren signs agreement with UA to train Navajo veterinarians

WINDOW ROCK – Navajo students of veterinary medicine at the University of Arizona will now join those in its medical and law schools to be eligible for a full scholarship beginning in August.

On Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren signed a memorandum of agreement between the university and Navajo Nation to have seven eligible veterinary students receive a 50/50 scholarship equivalent to having their entire tuition paid.

The agreement takes effect this August.

“It’s a monumental day for Navajo,” the President said. “Taking care of animals is probably one of the oldest Navajo trades, making sure that we can eat, making sure that we can travel and continue to be able to move forward.”

Traveling from Tucson for the signing of the agreement was UA Associate Dean Teresa Graham Brett and Dr. Alberta Arviso, senior engagement officer in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Veterinarians have been in our culture for a long, long time,” Dr. Arviso said. “We probably didn’t acknowledge them until the veterinary programs started.”

The UA College of Veterinary Medicine opened in August 2020 during the COVID pandemic, she said. Nonetheless, the first 110 students took courses online and are now scheduled to graduate from the three-year program this August 24.

“Dr. Wilson Francisco was the first Navajo veterinarian,” she told President Nygren. “After he passed away, we went years without a veterinarian. Then, in 1983, my husband, Dr. Joseph Bahe, became a veterinarian. He got his diploma with his relatives around him.”

Dr. Bahe became a Navajo Nation veterinarian in Tuba City.

Dr. Arviso said today the university has 360 students in the veterinary college with 19 Native American students representing 14 Native nations. Among them are five Navajos. Three of them will graduate in August.

President Nygren said it would be wonderful if all three could be hired by the Navajo Nation. Currently, the Nation has none, creating a burden for Navajos who need medical care for their livestock and family pets.

“We really need a lot of veterinarians,” he said. “The landscape is so vast, and the best way for our people to be entrepreneurs is to have their own livestock, to be able to have sheep and cows and horses.”

With newly-graduated veterinary doctors earning an average of $100,000 per year, he said he would be extremely pleased if the Nation could afford two veterinarians.

“What if we were able to secure the three who are graduating?” he said. “Give them a two-year residency here on Navajo. They’d get a good salary, get to work as a team, and when new ones are coming, they’d get to rotate each other out. I want these young veterinarians to be the trailblazers, the ones who build the standards of veterinary science within the Division of Natural Resources.”

Associate Dean Brett said the UA program is structured so that students complete a four-year program in only three years.

“Instead of taking summers off, we fill their summers with full semesters,” she said. “That’s why they’re able to start earning a salary earlier.”

Dr. Arviso said the college has a “pathway program” for her to visit students in the lower grades to have them begin to think about becoming veterinarians early. She said she’s visited both elementary and middle schools on the Navajo Nation to talk to students and counselors to guide them into the field.

“Most of the students come from homes where there are horses, cattle and sheep,” she said. “It’s pretty much their whole life. When I was there, I talked about the beauty of our culture. It’s been horses and animals. We have a strong connection to them and to the land base on which we live. It’s always been who we are as Diné.”

According to a 2022 report by Mars Veterinary Health, there will be a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians across the United States by the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, that shortage has already hit the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation has veterinarian clinics at Shiprock and Tse Bonito that continually need licensed medical veterinarians but remain unstaffed.

Currently, the Nation has only three veterinarians in private practice. They are Dr. Jim Eubank at Kayenta Unified Schools, Dr. Carol Holgate who owns and operates Desert View Veterinary Clinic in Tuba City, and Dr. Adrienne Ruby who has a mobile practice.

For information about the Navajo Nation Future Veterinarians Scholarship, students should call the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Aid. Eligibility follows the University of Arizona schedule and process.

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