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Beyond basketball, being a Native American doctor is in the game plan for NSU’s Kyarrah Grant

Nova Southeastern University women’s basketball player Kyarrah Grant (Navajo/Choctaw) is studying to become a medical doctor.

So what is physiatry?

That’s a question Kyarrah Grant hears just about every time she tells someone her career ambition.

The easy part for Grant (Navajo/Choctaw) is telling people she wants to be a medical doctor; the tough part is explaining the title and what it encompasses.

Physiatry is the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Grant wants to specialize in the sports medicine aspect of physiatry. Physiatrists are medical doctors who make diagnoses and prescribe the therapies that physical therapists will subsequently perform. Often, physiatrists lead a team of medical professionals which could include physical therapists, occupational therapists and physician extenders.

Grant is a pre-med student at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. She’s a biology major. She’s a psychology minor. And she’s a guard on the NSU women’s basketball team. In other words, she’s very busy.

If everything goes according to plan, she will also be a Native American doctor, a profession that is sorely underrepresented from within Indian Country. In fact, a 2018 American Medical Association report showed Native Americans account for just 0.4% of the physician workforce. The numbers aren’t getting better. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, out of 20,387 medical school graduates in 2019-20, only 35 were American Indian or Alaska Native.

“Especially with the lack of opportunities, it’s hard for Native Americans to have any opportunity to become a doctor,” Grant said. “I know there are a lot of smart Native Americans out there, but they don’t have that opportunity to get where they want to be. I’m very blessed to have that opportunity to become the doctor that I aim to be.”

Initially, Grant wanted to be a physical therapist, figuring that would be a good way to stay involved in sports after her college playing days end. But when a nurse told her about a lack of physiatrists, her curiosity piqued and career goals shifted, and so did her academic address.

How did someone who spent the first 10 years of her life living in a rural area of Arizona and the next 10 in a small Mississippi town wind up in bustling South Florida?

Academics certainly played a role.

“NSU has a really good medical school,” she said.

Athletics also figured heavily in her decision to switch to NSU in 2020 after spending two years at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

“I talked to (NSU head coach LeAnn Freeland-Curry) and I really liked her. When she offered me a scholarship, I took it without a second thought,” Grant said. “I like the coaches. They’re really easy to talk to and they’re very willing to help you in any part of your game.”

An added caveat to Grant’s decision to come to NSU was her friendship with Seminole basketball standout Skyla Osceola. They played together a few years ago on a team coached by Osceola’s father Marl that won a NAYO championship in New York.

“It was a lot fun playing with Skyla because she works really hard and she’s really smart, too,” Grant said.

When Grant decided to transfer, her eyes turned toward Florida.

“I was talking with Skyla, and her parents were talking with my parents about how it would be pretty awesome if we went to the same school. She was already here at NSU,” Grant said.

Indeed, Osceola had been on the team since 2017 when she had an outstanding freshman season as the Sharks leader in assists and defensive rebounds and she led the Sunshine State Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. But the Osceola-Grant reunion at NSU only took place in practices. Due to the pandemic, the university opted to cancel all games this season. The Sharks were left with plenty of practices and intra-squad scrimmages, but no games. Grant, who won two state championships at Choctaw Central High School in Mississippi, retains this year’s eligibility, meaning the redshirt sophomore has three seasons left.

Even though Osceola is no longer with the team, she and Grant won’t have trouble finding each other to shoot hoops. That’s because Grant is living with the Osceola family on the Hollywood Reservation while attending NSU.

As for becoming acclimated to South Florida, Grant said she’s amazed by the large population and the vast number of restaurants compared to where she’s come from. She’s eager to get a taste of life here, but has been hesitant due to the pandemic.

“There are so many things to do here that I want to do,” she said.

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Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. He also worked for more than a decade in management and public relations for a hockey program in New England that produced several college and NHL players. Contact Kevin at kevinjohnson@semtribe.com.
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