Arne Vainio: Starting a new medical segment for Native Report

Arne Vainio. Photo from Walking Into The Unknown / Vision Maker Media

Coffee with Michael LeGarde
By Arne Vainio, M.D.

Michael LeGarde is the producer of Native Report. This is the eleventh season of the show and it has really grown over the years. It currently shows in 28 states on over 100 stations and teaches us all about historical issues and current issues important to Native American people. The show originates from the WDSE studios for Public Television, Channel 8 in Duluth, Minnesota.

On Tuesday, January 19, 2016, we will shoot the first segment where I will be a part of the program. My focus on getting our people into medicine has really been sharpened in the last year or so. I have gone to schools and done mad science experiments for Native students so they can see we can be traditional and still be scientists and I have done mad science experiments for non-Native students so whatever ideas they may have about Native people have to include us as scientists and teachers.

The word doctor comes from the Latin word docere, which means, “to teach.” I truly feel one of my primary roles as a physician is to explain medicine to my patients in plain and simple terms. Medicine is complicated and technical and the explanations are not always easy. There are hard conversations to be had about end of life planning and changing living situations and decisions to continue on or to stop treatments can be heart wrenching.

Cancers, heart disease, diabetes, cataracts and anything else related to health care are fair game. I want to be responsive to the needs and questions we have as we move forward. My initial segment will air sometime in February and will start with a mad science experiment and an introduction and we foresee the actual medical segments in future shows as being very short and hopefully to the point.

Producer / writer Michael LeGarde and host / co-producer Stacey Thunder on the set of Native Report. Photo from Facebook

We want to have viewers send topics or questions to the website for Native Report for the program and not directly to me as they will eventually be buried and lost.

I have to admit, I’m pretty excited about this and will post progress as it happens and will let everyone know when the first segment airs. In the meantime, please go to the Facebook page and follow and like Native Report.

I am extremely fortunate to be where I am and things didn’t have to turn out like they did. My father committed suicide when I was four years old. My mother died from complications due to diabetes the night I graduated from my residency in 1997. My older sister died due to liver failure from alcoholism just a few short years ago and my younger brother died in a shack without running water or indoor plumbing just after Christmas the year after that.

I should have died in the shack next to his.

Coffee with Michael LeGarde. Photo by Arne Vainio

Only by the grace and caring of a double handful of people did I make it through the maze that is the pathway to medical school and many of those people have passed on, some before they knew how truly important they were to me.

The only way to repay them is to pay it forward. We are all those people for someone. Somewhere, someone (maybe a child) looks to you and wants to be everything you are and we need to think about what we are teaching them. I will continue to look for the doctors and nurses and lawyers and teachers and filmmakers and all other professions among us. They may be young, but they also may be those who have been out of school for a long time and have come to realize they could be doing something more. I didn’t go back to finish college until I was almost 30 years old and it’s only too late if you believe it’s too late or if you let someone else convince you it is.

Life is about hopes and dreams and forgiveness and redemption.

I want this to be a useful segment of the show. I want to be able to share the gift of my medical education with all of us. I want to make going to the doctor less scary and I want medical issues to make sense. I truly want those of us meant for a path to medicine to find and to stay on that path and I will do what I can to help make that so.

I need your help.

I need questions and I need topics people care about. I can go on and on about health issues, but I want them to be the topics and questions we care about. Some of the questions may seem simple and embarrassing, but if you have that question, there’s a good chance someone else also has it.

Ask it. We’re all in this together.

Miigwech bizindaawiiyeg. Thank you for listening to me.

Arne Vainio, M.D. is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and is a family practice physician on the Fond du Lac reservation in Cloquet, Minnesota. He can be contacted at

Related Stories:
Arne Vainio: A mother opens up after the death of her child (11/16)
Arne Vainio: Happiness comes from my life of medical service (10/16)
Arne Vainio: Learning to dance to bring healing for our people (09/24)
Arne Vainio: Doing more to support our Native youth in medicine (08/21)

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