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This post comes to us from our member, Indian Health Service:

If you’re looking for work/life balance, with year-round recreational activities, look no further than the Navajo Area Indian Health Service (IHS). Many have come to appreciate the unique experience of living in and working in the Navajo Nation, the largest Indian reservation in the United States — and one of the most remote.

Health care providers who are passionate about public service and drawn by the rich cultural traditions and rugged natural beauty of the Navajo Area often find their way to careers with IHS, an agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Navajo Area, one of 12 IHS regions, provides health services to a population of more than 300,000 on or near the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation, located roughly at the “Four Corners” intersection of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Most patients are Navajos or members of the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi and Zuni Tribes, all near the Navajo Nation. Health services are provided primarily through 12 federal facilities in five IHS service units in Chinle and Kayenta, AZ, and Crownpoint, Gallup and Shiprock, NM.  There are also IHS Tribal Facilities in Winslow, Fort Defiance and Tuba City, AZ.

Altruism and Outdoor Adventure Among Attractions

Providers are attracted to the Navajo Area for all kinds of reasons, notes Thad Koppenhafer, Chief Pharmacist at Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, NM.

Many “would really just like an experience where they can give back, without having to go to Africa or South America for a mission,” adds Koppenhafer, who grew up 40 miles from Shiprock in Cortez, CO; part of his job involves recruiting pharmacists.

“The outdoors is definitely a huge plus,” he says. “A lot of people fit well out here if they are hikers, mountain bikers or like to raft or ski. That really attracts people. One husband and wife came to Shiprock because of mountain biking… If you like to ‘adventure out,’ there are crazy (fun) things you can do all summer long and most of the winter.”

The IHS Loan Repayment Program (LRP) was his entrée into IHS 15 years ago, and continues to be a powerful recruitment tool, paying up to $40,000 in exchange for an initial two-year service commitment at an approved IHS facility.

A Cross-Cultural, Rural Environment

One physician who loves the Navajo Area is Dr. Jon Stucki, a full-time physician working in the Emergency department in Kayenta, AZ, near the towering red sandstone buttes of Monument Valley.

I love the outdoors, canyon country and working in a cross-cultural, underserved area,” says Stucki, a Commander in the US Public Health Service (USPHS).

He has served in both the Navajo Area (Kayenta), and Phoenix Area (Hopi) for more than a decade, after previously working in diverse locations from Africa to Alaska. “In my non-work time, I have lots of activities — I’m a backpacker and a canyoneer.”

But experiencing Navajo culture is a big part of the draw for him as well.

“I’m not a fluent speaker, but I use the Navajo language every day,” to interact with older patients, he says. “On occasion, I get invited to ceremonies … and there’s the gratification (of serving in a rural health care area). It’s nice to know you’re one of those individuals who is able to contribute in that way.”

He knows some people think they couldn’t live without shopping malls and gourmet grocery stores nearby.

“But I often feel that if people only knew what my day-to-day life is like — the interactions with patients and coworkers, the region, geographically and culturally — there would be people knocking at the door.”

Learn about Navajo Area jobs on 3RNet or at ihs.gov/careeropps and explore loan repayment at ihs.gov/loanrepayment.

Dr. Jon Stucki is a full-time physician working in the Emergency department in Kayenta, AZ, near the towering red sandstone buttes of Monument Valley.  

“In my non-work time, I have lots of activities — I’m a backpacker and a canyoneer,” he says. 

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