As a citizen of the Lac du Flambeau Tribe of Wisconsin, Erica Bhatti’s dream was to return to her reservation as a doctor and restore her fellow citizens to proper medical care.
The University of Illinois at Chicago student will be on her way to achieving that goal when she graduates from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Dec. 10 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. Bhatti plans to continue her studies in medical school.
She described the reservation, which is more than 350 miles north of Chicago in northern Wisconsin, as a quaint community of about 2,000 people, where the maternal side of the family lives as citizens. As a child, she lived with her parents in Paris, France, before moving with her mother and siblings to the reservation.
“I grew up outdoors in the Northwoods, learning to fish and gather medicine; it’s a very beautiful and traditional way of life there,” Bhatti said.
After attending a local community college near her home in Wisconsin during her freshman year, she realized she needed more research opportunities and saw Chicago and UIC as places that could offer him more to make his dreams come true. What drew her to UIC was its focus on research, which would go hand-in-hand with her focus as a pre-med student.
During a visit to campus before her sophomore year, she was pleasantly surprised to discover that UIC had an active Native American support program. She then learned that since 2019, the university has been offering in-state classes to students who are members of any of the 573 tribal nations recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“I chose to go to UIC because it leads to research, and I knew I wanted to be in pre-med, so that was the main reason I came to visit the campus,” said said Bhatti. “Then I saw that there was a recognized Native American support program and tuition in the state, and that was the icing on the cake. This program saved me thousands of dollars.
For her research, she became involved with the Path 2 Purpose study, which is a free, voluntary program for teens who want to improve their mood and learn coping skills to handle difficult situations. Launched by leading universities including UIC, the study is a clinical trial that will determine the best way to help adolescents adopt healthy lifestyles.
“I really enjoyed the interaction I had with the teenagers. I was able to have some research experience under my belt, so that was really helpful,” she said.
Bhatti, who is president of the Native American and Indigenous Students Organization, credited the Native American Support Program for extending its off-campus reach to the American Indian Center in Chicago, with which he has close ties. She said it allowed her to be exposed to more of what Chicago had to offer when it came to Indigenous issues. The Native American Support Program also connected her with the American Indian Health Service in Chicago, which she says will be a resource as a Native doctor in the future.
“As president of NAISO, I planned events, collaborated with other student organizations, connected with my peers, and helped plan UIC’s annual powwow,” Bhatti said. “Achieving this designation was very exciting and important for me, as I learned important life skills like leadership and awareness. I was very proud to represent indigenous students at UIC.
She said she plans to take a year off to study for the medical school entrance exam and gain more experience with patients by working in a hospital or getting certified to work in an ambulance. . She would like to obtain a double diploma which would allow her to obtain her medical degree as well as a master’s degree in public health.
“UIC has guided me tremendously in terms of what I want for my future,” Bhatti said.
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