Mental Health

In Service to a Nation

Roger Montgomery will tell you he has not done anything that special. Talk with him awhile, and you will learn otherwise.

Montgomery, a member of the Cherokee Nation and a self-proclaimed “Okie from Muskogee,” says he has come full circle in his professional odyssey. After finishing his residency at Boston City Hospital, he moved to Oklahoma to work at an Indian Health Service hospital, then to a traditional primary care practice. Now, Montgomery is the executive medical director of Cherokee Nation Health Services. This professional journey was not an easy one, but it was necessary: Montgomery wanted to serve the Cherokee community.

It was a high school science teacher who first planted the idea of becoming a physician in Montgomery’s young mind. The idea flourished, but slowly.

“It took several years of being a doctor before I realized that I was suited to be a doctor,” he says. “I’m forever indebted to this wonderful teacher, who challenged and nurtured me along the way.” The two remain friends to this day.

portrait of Roger montgomery
Roger Montgomery

 

Montgomery wanted to attend the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, but Willard Mounce, a Cherokee citizen who was also an HMS student, had other plans for his friend. He not only encouraged the reluctant Montgomery to apply to HMS, he sent him the application and funds to cover the application fee. When Oglesby Paul, MD ’42, then director of admissions at HMS, called and invited Montgomery to Boston, he did travel east, albeit, he says, “under duress.”

Making the transition to medical school and Boston brought its challenges. Fortunately, Montgomery again found encouragement from someone who would become a mentor: Daniel Federman, MD ’53, then dean for students at HMS. Montgomery recalls talking with Federman about whether he, coming from rural Oklahoma, “belonged” at HMS. Federman, says Montgomery, was the “kind of person you could talk to, someone who never acted as if belonging was even an issue.”

Cherokee Nation Health Services is the largest tribal health service in the country, and although Montgomery’s role is more administrative than clinical, he’s grateful for the opportunity to help improve the health of tribal members. One standout project aims to eradicate hepatitis C in the tribal community.

He is also excited about his involvement in a new medical school, projected to open in 2020, that represents a collaboration between Cherokee Health and Oklahoma State University. The school will be the first tribally affiliated medical school in the United States. Montgomery and others hope its graduates will help alleviate the shortage of primary care physicians in rural Oklahoma. With work that addresses the near- and long-term needs of the Cherokee people, Montgomery remains dedicated to improving the health care system that serves them and, in the process, is helping future generations flourish.

Roger Montgomery, MD ’85 | Executive Medical Director | Cherokee Nation Health Services

Image: Stephen Ironside