Hoopa Resident Laura Jordan Graduates UC Davis Medical School

Laura Jordan graduated on May 29, 2014, from U.C.-Medical School. Dr. Laura Jordan has shown through perserverence that childhood dreams can come true./Photo courtesy of Laura Jordan

Laura Jordan graduated on May 29, 2014, from U.C.-Medical School. Dr. Laura Jordan has shown through perserverence that childhood dreams can come true./Photo courtesy of Laura Jordan

By RHONDA BIGOVICH, Two Rivers Tribune

Laura Jordan of Hoopa overcame many obstacles to graduate from U.C.-Davis School of Medicine in the spring of 2014. Throughout many long years of struggle, she never lost sight of becoming a doctor.

It all started when Laura’s parents, Larry and Angela Jordan, bought their young daughter a toy medical kit. She loved it and always said she wanted to be a doctor. As her dreams began to take shape, Laura was awed when she heard there was a female Native American doctor working at K’ima:w Medical Center (KMC) in Hoopa.

Dr. Eva Smith, a member of the Shinnecock Nation from New York and resident doctor at KMC,did not realize at the time, but Laura Jordan would soon be following in her footsteps. Laura wrote a letter to Smith asking if she could shadow her for a day as she made her rounds in the clinic, Smith agreed.

“Nothing was ever handed to me, you have to see what you want and need and go for it. Dr. Smith did not present herself to me. I presented myself to her. I was 14 years old and in high school,” Laura explained.

After shadowing Smith for a day, Laura was certain she wanted to be a doctor. She set her goaland then began to prepare herself for the nine-year journey of undergraduate and medical school.

Laura Jordan studied hard throughout elementary and high school. She enjoyed school and rarely allowed her grades to slip because keeping her grades up was imperative to get into her college of choice. But for reasons beyond her control, she struggled.

As a result, one of the high-school guidance counselors told Laura that she would not qualify to be admitted to U.C.-Davis, and that she should set her sights lower. This did not dishearten her and she continued her pursuit for academic achievement.

Laura’s mother, Angela Jordan, said that she was outraged her daughter had been discouraged by the guidance counselor, but she was also proud that Laura had not been deterred. She said that her daughter had a way with handling things like this on her own; in fact, Laura became even more determined.

“In 2002 [when] I graduated from Hoopa High School as valedictorian [I assumed] I shouldn’t have had any problems,” Laura said. But when she arrived at Humboldt State University (HSU),“It became a game of catch up. I was competing against students who have been groomed their whole lives to go to college, the other students didn’t have to work [and] they just concentrated on their schoolwork.”

During breaks from HSU Laura returned to Hoopa and worked at KMC with Dr. Smith.This allowed her to gain experience and earn money to pay for books she needed the following semester. After college Laura continued working at KMC in different departments, even returning to complete clinical rotations during medical school.

Laura paid her way through college with her earnings. She was also awarded a Millennium Gates Scholarship and applied for any other grants for which she qualified. Through her diligence she graduated HSU in 2002 without debt.

Tuition at U.C.-Davis Medical School cost approximately $200,000-$300,000. Laura was able to borrow money to cover portions of the tuition, but still needed find ways to cover the rest of the fees.

As a Yurok tribal member Laura was eligible and applied for Indian Health Service (IHS) grant money. This paid for the remainder of her fees, with a catch: every year a student accepts funding from the program, he or she must work a year for one of the clinics.

“So I am obligated to work two years in Indian country, which was my plan anyway. IHS covered $150,000-$175,000for my education,” Laura said. The estimated cost of her complete education was around $500,000.

Laura was tired and exhausted most of the time in medical school. Operating on minimal sleep, she studied hard to keep up with her classes, as the instructors expected the students to know all materials inside and out. Of all nine years of school, the first year of medical school was the most difficult and the hardest part was being away from home and her family.

There are approximately 120 medical schools nationwide, but there were only 82 Native American students in medical school the year Laura graduated. She was the only Native American student at U.C.-Davis, and some schools don’t have any Native American students enrolled at all.

Laura said, “If we don’t take those hard steps and be the first ones to come through, who is going to come behind us? We have to use all obstacles as our stepping stones. It doesn’t matter what background you come from, if you want it bad enough you can get it.”

U.C.-Davis medical school graduates are permitted to invite two people who have been supportive to walk down the aisle with them to receive their medical license at the graduation ceremony.

Laura chose her parents. “After seeing Laura complete medical school I felt a deep sense of pride. We knew she was going to achieve no less than what she was going after, there was not ever a doubt,” said Angela Jordan.

The moment of graduation felt surreal to Laura.“Honestly, it was one of those pinch-me moments. All I could see was pure joy on my parents’ faces. It was their reward as much as it was mine because they had supported me the entire time. It was hard being away at school because I missed my family and all those little moments that make family who we are, but in the end it was worth it.”

Currently Laura is working on her three-year post-graduate requirement at Ventura Family Medical Residency (VFMR), a level-two trauma center that is ranked first in family-medicine training facilities. Laura does plan to return to KMC as a doctor, and has before in her spare time away from her work in Ventura.

This medical facility accepts everyone who comes through the door, and the trauma center sees everything from a cough to a gunshot wound. “So far I’ve been trained to run the trauma and am being trained to run intensive care unit. I am qualified to do variety of procedures already. VFMC will teach me how to run a pediatrics floor, a general medicine floor, and the labor and delivery floor,” she said.

After completing her residency at VFMC, Laura looks forward to returning to Indian country and working her obligated two years for IHS.

“I have not decided what IHS clinic I want to work for yet, but it is important to me that I work with my own people,” she said. “I am so young in my career, I have three years to spend at Ventura, I cannot predict what will happen in that amount of time, or determine what kind of connections I will build within that time.”

If you want something better for yourself then you have to work for it, Laura added. Her parents were not rich, and Laura learned early on that her parents had worked for everything they had. By their example she understood that a good work ethic was important and necessary for achieving her medical degree.

“Laura knew as a little girl that she wanted to become a physician,” said Smith. “With lots of dedication, long hours of study, support, and prayers from family, as well as teachers, she is officially Dr. Jordan. We all should be proud. As a community we can help so many other young people realize their dreams too.”

Laura hopes that her story it will inspire other youth and encourage them to make their dreams come true as well.

One of the more rewarding moments for Jordan is working with Dr. Smith when she returns to Hoopa, as community members can witness her transformation from high school student, to medical school student,to doctor. Working with familiar faces and hearing stories of her own family members from patients is the best reward.

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