NCAI Names Inaugural Graduate Health Fellowship Recipient

Published on Apr 18, 2012

NCAI Contact: Tiffany Smalley,
Communications Fellow 202.466.7767 x 238

Former U.S. Public Health Service Officer and Dentistry Student Lisa Begay (Navajo) Receives Award 

Washington, D.C.—The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has announced Lisa Begay of Mesa, Arizona as its inaugural Native Graduate Health Fellowship recipient. Ms. Begay, a former commissioned Officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, is a Navajo dental student at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, where she is enhancing her knowledge of dental health to complement her substantial field experience. The Fellowship will include both a financial award of $5,000 and professional development in tribal health policy. 

NCAI announced that Lisa Begay (above) of Mesa, Arizona is the recipient of the organization’s inaugural Native Graduate Health Fellowship. Ms. Begay, a veteran of the US Navy, is a Navajo dental student at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health

“As a dedicated, positive agent for change, Ms. Begay is an exceptional example of someone serving Indian Country on the ground and making a real difference,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel, “We commend Ms. Begay for her commitment and we look forward to assisting her in her professional development and her ongoing efforts to improve Native health.”
Ms. Begay is a former commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, one of the seven uniformed services. She began her career as a dental hygienist for the Indian Health Service (IHS) and has led numerous community initiatives to improve oral health among Native children and families. These initiatives include helping to implement the “Cavity Free Club” at the Albuquerque IHS Dental Clinic and coordinating a mass mailing of first-birthday cards to Native children to encourage parents to make their child’s first dental appointment. Devoted to fostering the next generation of leaders in Native health, Ms. Begay has also served as an instructor for a national IHS course for dental assistants and encourages other Native students to consider dentistry fields.

In its first year, NCAI’s Native Graduate Health Fellowship is a part of NCAI’s commitment to equipping the next generation of Native leaders. NCAI received nearly 40 applications from students representing 26 tribes. A review committee comprised of NCAI staff and key leaders in Native health selected the inaugural Health Fellow, as well as two finalists, on the basis of demonstrated commitment to American Indian and Alaska Native health, academic achievement, and community engagement. The program aims to build a pipeline of Native health professionals who can support tribal sovereignty and who are prepared to lead in promoting health policies and practices that address the unique needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives.
NCAI deeply appreciates the generous support of Robert Burnette and the Seventh Day Adventist Church in helping launch the fellowship. The Klamath Tribes, the Kiowa Tribe, the Ketchikan Indian Community, and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe also pledged a combined $4,000 to help sustain the Fellowship’s endowment. NCAI is planning to expand this Fellowship into other high-need areas in Indian Country, such as education and economic development. For more information about supporting the fellowship, contact Peter Morris at (202) 466-7767 or

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