Growing up, Shelbie Shelder wasn’t always convinced that she could be a doctor someday.

“I’m a first-generation college student,” said the fourth-year University of Minnesota Medical School student. “I didn’t think that I could be a doctor, and I had really bad imposter syndrome in college.”

Shelder is a member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Michigan and the Makwa (bear) clan. She shared that, as a child, she experienced the effects of the inequalities in the healthcare system first-hand. It wasn’t until her senior year of college that a mentor encouraged her to pursue medicine.

“I realized I wanted to have meaningful interactions with patients,” she said. “Another reason I went to medical school was because I wanted to give back to the Native community, and I want to go practice on a reservation. There’s a huge shortage of Native doctors, and I wanted to help fill that shortage.”

Shelder quickly discovered at the U of M Medical School, that family medicine was her biggest passion.

“I did a rotation at the Indian Health Board, which is an urban Native clinic in Minneapolis. It reminded me of my purpose and taking care of Native patients again,” she said. “Seeing Native youth and telling Native youth, ‘You can go to medical school,’ those memories are definitely my favorite.”

Today, Shelder found out that she matched with the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington in family medicine, where she will continue her education at the Seattle Indian Health Board –her dream match even before attending medical school.

“Continuity is super important in forming really strong relationships with patients. I’m really biased, but I feel like family medicine doctors are the champions of the healthcare system,” she said. “You can take care of anyone at any stage of their life, which is so powerful. It’s so meaningful for underserved communities.”

Shelder shared that she was awarded the Indian Health Service Scholarship when she started her journey in medicine at the U of M Medical School, Duluth Campus. “I will be giving four years back after residency and working at an Indian Health Service clinic. That’s a huge part of me and a huge part of my training,” she said.

Now, Shelder has no hesitation that being a doctor is exactly what she is meant to be. Her encouragement to other Native students who are considering medicine: “You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

Shelder also shared, “Miigwech (thank you) to all of those that believed in me, especially when I did not believe in myself. I want to thank my Nimaamaa (Patty Shelder, her mother), my siblings, my friends and the kwepack for being my home-away-from-home during my time in medical school. I also want to say miigwech to my community for supporting me and encouraging me to keep going, while constantly reminding me of my greater purpose to serve Native people."