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By Nicole San Roman

Inspiring Grad: Ashlynn Black, Doctor of Medicine

In a crowded room at The University of New Mexico, medical students and their families gathered in anticipation for a momentous occasion that would lay the foundation for their futures in health care. It was Match Day; the day Doctor of Medicine (MD) students find out where they will spend the next few years doing their residency training. For Native American student, Ashlynn Black, Match Day was not just important for her future, but also for the future of her community.

Speaking in Navajo, Black introduced herself, “Shi ei Ashlynn Black yinishye. Kinlichii’nii nishli. Kinyaa’aanii bashishchiin. Tachii’nii dashicheii. Kinlichii’nii dashinali.” Black explained, “This translates to ‘I am the Red House clan, born for the Towering House Clan. My maternal grandfather is the Red Running into Water clan. My paternal grandfather is the Red House clan.’”

Black’s journey to Match Day was far from easy. Raised on the Navajo Nation near the Four Corners, she found herself struggling in higher education to find peers who shared her cultural values and beliefs—a stark contrast to her early years in school.
Ashlynn Black, MD
“I grew up on a reservation where we celebrated our culture. Growing up, I went to school with many Navajo students, I was always taught that education is something we should try to strive to attain to the best of our ability.”
— Ashlynn Black, MD, UNM School of Medicine Inspiring Grad

“I grew up on a reservation where we celebrated our culture. Growing up, I went to school with many Navajo students,” Black said. “I was always taught that education is something we should try to strive to attain to the best of our ability.”

Even so, Black wasn’t sure she could make it all the way.

“I never thought I would be able to attain an MD degree. Every step of the way I was doubting myself.”

2024 Inspiring Grad: Ashlynn Black, School of Medicine

But Black saw a need in her community and was inspired by her parents: her mother, who completed her bachelor’s degree while she was raising Black and her two siblings and by her father who was a traditional healer on the reservation.  

“I watched my father help people who were struggling with mental health or grief,” Black said. “He provided ceremonies to help them through their journey. I saw my dad as a wonderful communicator and somebody who really provided stability to the community.”

Black attended Monument Valley High School in Arizona where she graduated valedictorian. She was accepted to Stanford University in California where she received her Bachelor of Science in biology.

“I was one of very few Native students who were taking these pre-med classes. I never felt like I truly belonged within that culture. There was a strong Native American presence on campus but within the pre-med classes, I felt very much alone.”

After finishing her biology degree, Black was struggling with The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). She took the test twice with below average results. Her confidence was waning. But with guidance and encouragement from her parents and her school counselor, Black started to apply for medical schools she hoped would be a good fit. UNM’s School of Medicine was her top choice.

“It was an institution that really celebrated multiculturalism, and there's a large Native American population within the state,” Black said.

She was accepted.

“I was so proud to be able to work and learn from this institution that celebrates this kind of culture,” she said. “There were conversations about historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, the social determinants of health and systemic racism and how that's impacting Native communities as well as other underrepresented communities. I was with a cohort who really valued finding ways to bridge those disparities in health.”

Black’s time at UNM also helped her to understand and work through her own academic fears and uncertainty. “I did my very best within each course and I was really happy to see the results of that,” Black said. “Like getting phase one honors, phase two honors, getting an internal medicine clerkship award. Wow!”

As her confidence grew, so did her passion for helping people.

“With each patient, I wanted to learn their story and learn about their perspective on their health,” she said. “I saw many Native American patients and was able to be an advocate; I was really proud of that.”

Another reason to be proud- her perseverance paid off. Black will graduate with an MD from UNM’s School of Medicine. She also found a team of people who helped her to apply to internal medicine residency programs to continue her medical training.

“I found mentors who were able to really see Native American health and how that's affected them as a as a physician. They helped me with the interview process and the application process.”

Black applied to a few residency programs, including at UNM, but she really hoped to return to Stanford to finish her training.

Back at Match Day, it was time to for Black to find out. Sitting there with the people she loved most, the answer was just inside an envelope.

“I opened my letter, and I saw ‘congratulations,’” she said. “Then I flipped the other side of the paper and I saw it was Stanford. I was in disbelief. I hugged my family, hugged my partner and we celebrated the moment.”

With the excitement also came some sadness. “It was bittersweet. I'm really happy to have this opportunity, but I'm going to miss Albuquerque, UNM, and being close to home.”

Black wants to train to become a hospitalist and a primary care provider, seeing patients both in and out of the hospital. And once she completes her training, she won’t need an envelope to tell her where she’ll go next. She wants to return home.

“I just really love my home. I really love my community. I tell people that I'm on this educational journey to return home to provide meaningful work within my community.”
Categories: School of Medicine