Adela Lente was told by a counselor that she’d never get into medical school. And yet, today, she is a specialized surgeon, and has also become proactive in inspiring Native American youth to pursue their dreams.

A new direction

Dr. Lente is lucky in that she has had mentors throughout her life. She grew up on the Isleta Pueblo, an American Indian reservation outside Albuquerque, where change wasn’t embraced and traditions were longstanding. Her grandfather, however, who had little education, encouraged her to go against the grain in seeking a higher education. “He’s the reason I made it so far,” she said.

“You can do whatever you set your mind to. If you really want to do something, you have to persevere.”

She was often told she wouldn’t get into medical school, and was instead encouraged to choose an allied health field. However, she found support when she entered into pharmacy school. The college dean was sympathetic to her desire to attend medical school and gave her the tools she needed to apply and earn an acceptance.

Reaching out

It was Dr. Lente’s own experiences struggling in an impoverished community with limited resources that inspired her to help others. She recognizes that too many Native Americans are told they can’t succeed in college or a complicated career, and wants to change that.

“It’s the ones that give up after they’re told they can’t succeed, those are the ones I’m in search of empowering.”

It was this drive to change the stagnation that occurs in areas with limited resources that compelled her to help in forming the Native American Explorers Program, which provides mentors for high school kids in an effort to get them involved with academic fields that they can continue to study in college.

“Many of the participating students have low expectations about their futures," says Dr. Lente. “No one in their family went to college, so they don’t expect to, either.” She hopes programs like this show Native American youth that they can improve their lives.

“You can do whatever you set your mind to. If you really want to do something, you have to persevere.”