Dr. Yvette Roubideaux is the Director of the Indian Health Service (IHS), an operating division in the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Roubideaux was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the IHS Director on May 6, 2009. She is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, and she is the first American Indian woman to head the IHS since it was founded in 1955.
As the IHS Director, Dr. Roubideaux administers a $4.3 billion nationwide health care delivery system comprised of over 600 hospitals, clinics and health stations organized in 12 Area Offices. The IHS is responsible for providing preventative, curative, and community health care to approximately 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in 35 states.
Dr. Roubideaux previously served as an assistant professor in the department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, where her work included teaching, research, and program development in the areas of diabetes in American Indians and Indian health policy. She has worked in a leadership capacity on numerous national committees and served as Co-Director of the Coordinating Center for the Special Diabetes Program for Indians Competitive Grant Program Demonstration Project, which was a congressionally-funded diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention project in 66 Indian health sites across the country. She also directed programs that recruited and trained American Indian students into the health professions. She was President of the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP) in 1999-2000, a past member of the Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Minority Health, and was named the 2004 AAIP Indian Physician of the Year. In 2001, Dr. Roubideaux co-edited the book “Promises to Keep: Public Health Policy for American Indians and Alaska Natives in the 21st Century.”
Dr. Roubideaux, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1989, and completed a residency program in Primary Care Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, in 1992. She completed her M.P.H. at the Harvard School of Public Health as a CFHU Fellow in 1997.
The Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University Fellowship in Minority Health Policy was a life-changing experience for me. The fellowship provided the opportunity to gain training in both public health and minority health policy in a supportive and encouraging environment. Prior to the fellowship, I was aware that I wanted to do more to improve the quality of healthcare for American Indians and Alaska Natives but I was unsure of the most effective way to accomplish this in my career. I worked as a clinician and medical director in the Indian Health Service, but I felt that the problems facing this population and its healthcare were much greater than what I was seeing on a day to day basis in the clinic.
My experiences caring for Indian patients revealed the persistent health disparities in this population and the impact of the significant underfunding and understaffing of the system, but I could not understand how these problems could be addressed in a more effective manner. During the fellowship, I learned about the various approaches to public health issues that worked in other communities, and the various resources available to meet these healthcare needs. I also was able to understand some of the reasons for the state of the Indian health system as I learned about national healthcare issues and challenges and similar problems in other underserved settings. The fellowship provided me with a framework from the policy perspective that helped me understand the various ways that the problems in Indian health could be addressed. I learned about the important role of data and research in helping inform policy decisions, and realized that one of the problems in Indian health is a lack of data and information on the causes of the health disparities and on potentially effective solutions. The fellowship was instrumental in helping me transition my career to an academic setting where I now work on research to measure the quality of healthcare for American Indians and Alaska Natives with diabetes, and I am involved in both policy and programmatic efforts to develop programs and educational efforts to help improve diabetes care and reduce health disparities in this population. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow during the fellowship year and attribute my current and future successes to the support and encouragement I continue to receive in the growing network of past and present fellows. The fellowship has certainly enriched my life and my career, and it serves as a source of strength and encouragement for my current and future efforts to help improve healthcare for American Indians and Alaska Natives.