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#IAmHHS: Roping Cattle and Improving Tribal Health

Dr. Ty Reidhead’s two-year service obligation for an IHS scholarship turned into an IHS career of purpose and passion and more than 20 years—and counting.

I have always followed my heart and trusted the doors that have opened along the way. With an initial plan to become a veterinarian and an undergraduate education partially paid by a rodeo scholarship, my love of animals eventually led me to the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center where I entered medical school. Following this, an Indian Health Service scholarship brought me to work at the Whiteriver Indian Hospital with the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Northeastern Arizona.

I had planned to only stay for the two-years I was required to serve as a condition of my scholarship, but it was clear that I was making a difference. What began as a two-year obligation has turned into an IHS career of more than 20 years—and counting.

I enjoy all of the passionate people I work with, and we are all part of the care team. I'm using every skill I’ve learned. It’s exciting and challenging, and we continue to find ways to improve and innovate.

Through the years, I’ve risen to the rank of rear admiral (lower half) in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, and I now serve as the area director for the Phoenix Area Indian Health Service. We provide healthcare and preventive services to more than 40 tribes in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and a small slice of California.

Our mission is to raise the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level, and our mission guides everybody’s job. We serve a population across all aspects of their life, and not just within the walls of the hospital. The care we provide extends into the home and community. For example, we have wonderful nurses whose entire job is to work in the community and make sure that the public health needs of individuals, families and communities are addressed and that they receive the healthcare they need. Working in IHS is not about transactional or single-visit medicine; it’s about serving a population across their lifespan.

I’m convinced that at its foundation, the Indian Health Service is designed to provide the best healthcare in the country. At times we may fall short of the expectations of our community partners and our patients, but we can and will do better.  Not because we know what is best, but because we strive to bring humility to our improvement efforts and our partnerships with tribes in the same way that “cultural humility” led every patient interaction I had while in Whiteriver.

I am a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, and I have been welcomed everywhere I have gone. I have found that our communities and our patients are open and willing to accept anyone who cares and is willing to pour their passion into their care. I was welcomed into the Whiteriver Apache community.

Having a love for the outdoors, and competing in rodeo provided an avenue for me to interact with and get to know the community. It also gives me an opportunity to get out and spend special time with my family.  I get to ride and rope with both my daughters, who have already been competing in rodeos for eight years.

We are blessed with a few acres outside of Phoenix where we can have our horses, cattle, goats, and dogs, and where I can enjoy just being outdoors with my family, especially after a long day at work.

I'm Ty Reidhead: I'm a doctor and a cowboy. And I am HHS.

Ty is one of more than 79,000 people who make HHS run every day. You can share his story and see others on Twitter and Facebook using #IAmHHS.

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