#MiFamMed Member of the Month

September 2022

Frank Animikwam, MD

Which practice settings/types have you experienced throughout your career?

I went to the University of Michigan for my Bachelor's in Biology with a minor in Native American Studies. I completed a post-baccalaureate, non-degree program in upper level sciences at Wayne State University. I earned my Medical Doctorate from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and completed family medicine residency with the Sparrow Hospital/MSU Family Medicine Residency program as one of their chief residents.

Following residency I joined my tribe, The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Health Center, Mina Mskiki Gumik “Good Medicine Lodge” in Petoskey. Recently, I have assumed the role of medical director. Our health clinic is tribe owned and partially Indian Health Service funded, servicing over 2,000 local tribe citizens and their families. We provide family medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry services. We also collaborate with our behavioral health, community health, dental, and pharmacy departments regularly. It is inspiring to work with such a great team at the LTBB Odawa Health Department. We are able to accomplish so much for our patients by working together.

What led you to this career, and was your path inspired by anyone?

When I was born I had bilateral clubfoot. After failing casting and then bracing, I had surgery to align my feet. I am grateful for the opportunity to walk, run, and play sports as a kid. Now, I can keep up with my children most days. I do have pain from time to time, which is a reminder that I must walk in life with care and to be grateful for what I have. I am grateful for the orthopedic surgeon team who had a huge impact on my quality of life.

I had always felt inspired to give back in some way, which started me on my path to becoming a physician, but I did not know what kind. Growing up in both the Detroit urban Indian community and my tribe, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, I experienced first hand the challenges that our Indian Health and Tribal Health services faced. Understaffing, underfunding, historical traumas, and health disparities remain some of our biggest challenges today. Having an understanding of Native American communities and realizing the need for continuity of care inspired me to become a family medicine physician. Many Native American communities in Michigan and throughout the United States do not have physicians who are Native American, and even more rare, physicians from their own tribe. My tribe in Northern Michigan was very fortunate to have a few physicians from our tribe. One of my inspirations, my cousin Terry Samuels MD, was the first. I am honored to be his successor in our tribe clinic, to carry on our holistic health services for our people.

A quick story; 20 years ago, when I was in high school, I expressed interest in becoming a doctor. My cousin, catching wind of this, invited me to shadow in our tribe clinic in Petoskey. This was my first shadowing experience and I remember he offered me one of his white coats, saying, “You need to look like a doctor.” Needless to say, the coat did not fit, literally and figuratively. It was not until after medical school and the start of residency that the coat eventually fit. One patient experience stood out in particular. My cousin had to deliver not-so-good news. The patient became upset and my cousin provided compassionate care to them and their family. The patient shared that they were more comfortable seeking western medicine care from my cousin because “he is a Native American and he understands me.” Learning many lessons that day, I knew then that I needed to continue on my noble path, while taking care along the way and walking with humility, to one day come back to my tribe and provide family medicine care.

What has been the most unique aspect/experience of your practice of medicine thus far?

The most unique aspect of my practice of medicine thus far has been the opportunity to work with our Native American Traditional Healers, Ninaandiwezijik. We are working towards integrating services, similar to how behavioral health and pharmacy has become integrated following the SAMHSA model. Oftentimes Native American Traditional Healing practices are dismissed because they are not evidence based, even though tribes have been using their knowledge of plants to heal ailments for hundreds, even thousands of years. It has been a humbling experience, as we work towards understanding and supporting each other's work. We can learn so much more from each other if we work more together. This approach is more in ine with our health department's mission, the provision of holistic healthcare that heals the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. This approach will allow us to provide care that is inline with the unique health beliefs of our Native American patients.

What advice would you give your student or resident self?

This is advice I gave myself when I was a resident and I would give the same advice again: Do not be so hard on yourself. You are a strong, beautiful person; you are loved and appreciated. Step outside your comfort zone and your comfort zone will grow. Your greatest resources are the people around you. It is ok to make mistakes at times; that is where we learn and how we grow. How we start our day is usually how we end it, so start off positive. And some quotes from one of my favorite authors, Richard Wagamese, “There is no unnecessary struggle in a noble cause.” “When we all have our energies focused on the same goal, there is no need for one person to lead.”

What is one professional skill you're currently working on?

If I had to pick one I would say leadership, although there are several others. Stepping into the role as a medical director comes with its own learning curve alongside the one for practicing medicine. My team at my clinic is very supportive and wants to see the success of each team member and the clinic overall. It sure makes a difference to have support. The biggest challenge thus far has been building in the supports where they are lacking within our system. But I am hopeful with everyone's energies aligned, we can continually improve our systems. I am grateful for the opportunities for leadership training through MAFP and AAFP. Leadership is certainly not something that books and training will give you entirely, although they do help. There are inherent qualities that give way to various leadership styles. What I have found best is to just practice and learn from experience. Seek out guidance and mentorship as often as needed.

Why is it important for you to be a member of Michigan Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Family Physicians?

It is important for me to be a member of MAFP and AAFP because representation matters for all of our communities. With representation comes a reflection of the communities that we collectively serve. Furthermore, MAFP and AAFP provide a rich network of family medicine physicians, advocates, and many practice-supporting resources. It is inspiring to be a member.

How do you achieve work-life balance and maintain your own wellness?

Achieving work-life balance and maintaining my own wellness comes in many forms. Trying to get adequate sleep, being conscious of what I am eating, and being physically active are more personal tasks. My wife, our children, and I go to Native American social gatherings, powwows, and round dances to practice culture, traditions, and spirituality. Practicing mindfulness and being present in the moment helps tremendously. A prime example is not emailing or charting after dinner when my children have not seen me all day. They will get all of my attention. The email or chart will often wait.

What book/podcast/Netflix series are you currently enjoying?

Stranger Things was really good. My oldest daughter and I enjoyed watching it on Netflix. There is a stack of books that sit on my nightstand that I am slowly working through: “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama, “Go Tell It On The Mountain” by James Baldwin, “Oshkaabewis Native Journal” featuring Ojibwe Stories and Scholarly Articles. And two new ones: “Research is Ceremony. Indigenous Research Methods” by Shawn Wilson and “The Science of the Sacred, Bridging Global Indigenous Medicine Systems and Modern Scientific Principles” by Nicole Redvers.

If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?

Again it is hard to choose just one. Impulse almost made me choose a different one, but after some thought, I would choose the ability to spread humility.

Is there anything else you would like everyone to know about you?

I am a proud husband and a proud father of three amazing daughters. I am indebted to my wife and our daughters for the sacrifices they have all made supporting me through medical school and residency. I encourage everyone to acknowledge your family, friends, and mentors who have supported you along your paths and, if you have not yet, show them how much you appreciate them. Thank you MAFP for the honor to be a Family Medicine Member of the Month.


Past Members of the Month