University of South Dakota graduate Tamee Livermont received not one but two prestigious Udall Scholarship Awards during her undergraduate experience.
These two accolades then paved the way to her acceptance to a nationally recognized research university. Livermont (’18), a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, has her mind set to change policies for the betterment of Native American people, and she has big plans for her future and the future of health care.
After graduating from USD with a joint degree in medical biology and Native American studies, Livermont is now pursuing a master’s degree in public health, concentrating on health policy, at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. Her long-term goal, after getting her medical doctorate, is to return to her home and serve her community as a physician and an advocate for the Native American population.
Here, Livermont tells us how USD sparked something inside of her to want to become a changemaker, what fuels her passion and what she has planned for her bright future ahead of her.
USD: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from?
Tamee: I grew up in Martin, a small town of roughly 1,000 people in southwestern South Dakota. My hometown is a border town directly between the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. I attended Bennett County High School, one of the smallest and lowest-performing schools in South Dakota when it comes to college and career readiness. I was witness to the socioeconomic inequities and the disparities that resulted from failures in systems. These systematic failures have resulted in the high rates of poverty and stark differences in health outcomes in my communities. I have since had a passion to close the gaps through systematic change including policy advocacy.
USD: We understand you are extremely bright and had several scholarships throughout your undergraduate career. It’s likely you could have gone just about anywhere with such great academics, but what brought you to USD?
Tamee: If I am being honest, I didn’t look far beyond USD. I was minimally prepared to attend college, because as I said my high school is one of the lowest-performing schools in the state of South Dakota when it comes to college and career readiness, and I am a first-generation college student. My older sister was obtaining her bachelor’s at the time, so she was slightly familiar and tried to guide me through the process. I was accepted to USD and later offered essentially a full-ride, and it is all history from there. The medical school at USD played a big role in my applying there in the first place. While my acceptance and scholarship opportunities at USD really fell into my lap, I know I was meant to be there. I could not have ever imagined, before attending, the career and life altering experience that I got at USD.
USD: Is there anything particular about your experience at USD that motivated or inspired you to get into health care or was this always the plan?
Tamee: I began at USD, solely on a path to obtain my M.D. and leave South Dakota. It was through my experiences at USD and the opportunities that I was given throughout my time there, that have shaped me and my career goals. My education and mentorship at USD empowered me to not run from the current downfalls in South Dakota, but to lead change and inspire others to do the same. Through the Udall Foundation Scholarship (which would not have been possible without the mentorship of Sarah Wittmuss and Dana Elliott), my passion for policy and systematic change was sparked. Thereafter, I began to explore the field of public health and the opportunities through public health to make a broader impact and create systematic change. This is why I am not only still on track to obtain a medical doctorate but am also pursuing my Master of Public Health degree concentrating in health policy. Systems change is important to me, and one of the best ways to change the system is through policy change.
My education and mentorship at USD empowered me to not run from the current downfalls in South Dakota, but to lead change and inspire others to do the same.
USD: Vanderbilt University! This is a big deal, a HUGE program. Can you help put into context for those who may not be familiar how competitive and how highly regarded this program is?
Tamee: Vanderbilt University holds a track record for being one of the top academic institutions in the nation. It is also one of the most renowned academic medical centers across the globe. When I was accepted into the Master of Public Health program, (Vanderbilt did not have a concentration in Native Health, and as a matter of fact a very small Native student and faculty representation on campus), I saw my attendance not only as an opportunity to learn from others with a diverse array of experiences, but as an opportunity to bring visibility to Native people across the campus and educate my colleagues who had no previous knowledge of Native American communities.
I saw my attendance not only as an opportunity to learn from others with a diverse array of experiences, but as an opportunity to bring visibility to Native people across the campus and educate my colleagues who had no previous knowledge of Native American communities.
USD: We understand your focus and passion has been on increasing health and well-being within your tribal communities. That said, what are you hoping to do after you are finished? What would be the most ideal scenario?
Tamee: Within the next couple of weeks, I will be moving to South Dakota and working for the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board. Over the next year I plan to apply to medical school and expect to be attending an M.D. or D.O. in the near future. After receiving my doctorate, I want to return to my reservation and serve as a healer in my community. My ideal career and job would be to serve as a physician part time while also advocating for policy change at the local, state and federal levels. In my free time, I want to run programs and a non-profit in my tribal community and across Indian country to help decrease the burden of disease in our communities. I believe that the issues do not exist in a vacuum, and just providing care is not going to solve the issue, which is why I also want to work and advocate in different areas.
USD: What is the internal mission for you?
Tamee: I do it for my people. That is really all that it comes down to. I was raised to be kind to all people and to care for those and help those in need or less fortunate. For me, this means my tiospaye and the Lakota people. I was born with a caring heart that has always wanted to give back and help others. I believe that I am the seventh generation since my ancestors experienced colonization and mass genocide. I was born and have a purpose to care for those who need caring for and to play a role in revitalizing our communities through care, culture and tradition! I believe that success looks like changing the circumstances for one person, inspiring one person, or changing the life of one mom that I care for someday. Small amounts of impact serve as a ripple effect to eventually inspire and change entire communities.
I do it for my people. That is really all that it comes down to. I was raised to be kind to all people and to care for those and help those in need or less fortunate. For me, this means my tiospaye and the Lakota people.