Purpose: To document how medical school faculty who are Native American women describe their sense of personal and professional success, so that mentoring can be better informed and diversity increased.
Method: This qualitative study was designed using snowball sampling methodology. Open-ended questions were developed with the authors' expertise and asked of five Native American women physician faculty participants until saturation was achieved. Transcripts were coded, organized, and interpreted to generate tentative themes and working hypotheses. The study was completed in 2006 and 2007.
Results: Native American women defined their place in the world through their primary culture. From analysis of the transcripts, three themes emerged as important in participants' sense of professional success: (1) Maintaining Native American values of belonging, connectedness, and giving back was essential, (2) success was perceived and experienced to have changed over time, and (3) mentoring relationships made success possible.
Conclusions: Native American women faculty based their identity and definition of success in their primary culture's values, relationships, and expectations. Academic success can be accomplished with mentorship that honors the Native American woman's responsibility to her culture over time (with clinical and academic opportunities) while also assisting with development of appropriate academic skills and opportunities.