Mary Owen: Dedicated to her ‘critically important work’
Physician and program director Mary Owen returned to the Duluth campus to help train Native American physicians and other healthcare workers to better serve Indigenous communities.
When she was a young adult living in her native Alaska, Mary Owen noticed what a lot of Native American and Indigenous citizens still see today—an absence of healthcare workers who looked like her.
She also became aware of the stark health disparities facing Indigenous people and a lack of Native American leadership in health programs. “I wanted to see more Natives in medicine when I went into clinics,” she says. “I wanted to see more representation by us.”
So she journeyed to the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth, and she’s been helping to bolster that representation ever since. Owen is now the director of the Center for American Indian and Minority Health (CAIMH) on the Duluth campus, an assistant professor, a physician for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the current president of the Association of American Indian Physicians.
Attending medical school presented a gamut of challenges, from the constant competition with her peers to the “good old-fashioned racism” she occasionally encountered in the classroom. She credits the center she now directs for helping her make it through that journey.
“If it weren’t for this program I don’t know that I would have survived or found the reasons to keep going,” she says.
Becoming a physician isn’t the accomplishment she cherishes the most.
“I think the biggest sense of completion for me was going back to my community and working for my tribal clinic, more so than getting that degree; getting the degree was just part of the process for me,” she says. “It was going back to the clinic, seeing the families, and seeing young people who were obviously really happy to see a Native physician. I had one woman cry when she saw me enter the room because I was Native. … That was, to me, much more important.”