AAIP Honors Alaskan Doctor as 'Physician of the Year'

Tish Leizens
8/17/12

The Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP) has honored Dr. David Baines, a member of the Tsimshain and Tlingit Tribes of Alaska, with a prestigious award recognizing his decades of dedication to advancing the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The family medicine practitioner at the Alaska Family Medicine Residency in Anchorage (part of the University of Washington Residency Network) was named "Physician of the Year" for 2012. The AAIP honored Baines, 57, at its conference, “Advancing Native Health and Wellness,” in Anchorage, held July 31 to August 5. Dr. Donna Galbreath, AAIP president, presented Baines with a plaque that read: “In recognition of outstanding dedication to the health of American Indian/Alaska Native people.”

Galbreath praised Baines—an advocate for incorporating traditional medicine into modern health care—for stepping beyond his regular physician duties to promote the health and wellness of American Indians and Alaska Natives on both a local and national level. “It is important to carry our culture in medicine to the next generation,” Baines says. “There is real strength in traditional ways and there is a way to adopt it to modern society and make us successful.”

“I have known David for a long time," Galbreath says. "He is a very humble man. I was unaware of all the work he has done [with Native Americans and Alaskan Natives] until I saw it written out on paper."

Each year, AAIP asks its 300 members to nominate a physician who is dedicated to advancing Native health. A three-person nominations committee selects the top contenders; this year, five people were nominated. A full board then deliberates on the final selection.

Among the things the board considers in naming the honoree is how long the person has been working with American Indian and Alaska Natives, the delivery of the health care, the longevity of the doctor's work, committees served, awards and recognitions received, and national involvement.

“I was amazed at the diversity of the work [Baines] is doing. He keeps moving forward. He has a lot of knowledge,” says Galbreath, who is also a family medicine practitioner.

“It is nice to have [the award]. It is recognition for all the hard work I have done,” says Baines, who has served as the AAIP Executive Board president and member. “I joined as [an AAIP] member in 1983," Baines says. "But as a med student in 1978, I helped to get students get involved in AAIP."

AAIP’s goal is to motivate Native students to remain in the academic pipeline and pursue a career in the health profession or biomedical research.

Baines received his medical degree from the Mayo Medical School in 1982 and is board certified in family medicine. “I was always interested in making a difference. I was the first American Indian in the Mayo Medical School," said Baines, who grew up in the remote Tsimshian Village of Southeastern Alaska, population 700, only accessible by plane or boat.

Baines worked in private practice for 14 years on the Couer d’ Alene Indian Reservation in Northern Idaho and served as clinical director of the Nez Perce Tribal Clinic in Kamiah, Idaho for one year.

He also worked at the Seattle Indian Health Board, an urban Indian clinic and a Family Practice Resident site, for two years, and spent four years working at the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services in Unalaska, a remote community of 4,000 (it swells to 10,000 during fish season, Baines wrote in his profile for the American Academy of Family Physicians) in the Aleutian chain. Working with the isolated Unalaska community— "located 800 miles or at least a three-hour flight from the nearest hospital in Anchorage," Baines says—significantly impacted him. Baines encourages all medical students and family medicine residents "to do a rural/frontier rotation to see what it is like to practice where you really have to use your clinical skills rather than depend on technology," he previously said. "Being a part of a community and having a sense of community is a wonderful experience and it is like becoming a part of my patients' families."

Baines, who testified to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in support of the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, traces the start of his involvement in national affairs to Mayo Medical School, where he worked on several projects and attended national meetings. He additionally served as consultant to the National Health Service in Great Britain.

While Baines' focus has always been on promoting the health of Natives, he is also concerned about the health of minorities. Baines is aware that some—like African Americans, Vietnamese and Filipinos—are underrepresented.

Baines has chaired the Ad Hoc Committee on Minority Populations at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes of Health (NIH) and is on the Advisory Committee of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at NIH. He is president of the Board for Mountain Pacific Quality Health Foundation.

Baines' other awards include the 1997 Founders Award for Community Service in Health and Medicine from the National Medical Fellowships. He was a recipient of the 1993 Gentle Giant of Medicine Award from G.D. Searle & Company and was selected for the 1995 United States Public Health Service Primary Care Fellowship.

“Dr. Baines is an incredible physician. He has a genuine passion of providing services for his Alaska Native community," says Dr. Daniel Dickerson, a double board-certified psychiatrist and addiction psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles. "His emphasis on utilizing traditional-based healing services both in his practice and in his personal life is a key example why he is an exemplary role model to his fellow Native American physicians and to the community he serves." (Read more about Dickerson and his AAIP Annual Meeting presentation in the ICTMN article "Drumming Proves Beneficial for Overcoming Substance Abuse Disorders".)

Outside of medicine, Baines’ interests are as diversified as his accomplishments. They include traditional dancing at pow wows, hunting, fishing, riding motorcycles, traveling and teaching his children traditional values.

He is not thinking of retiring but when he does, he says, “I have worked hard to get more students into health professions my whole life, and I hope to continue that work until I retire.”

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