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y his own admission, as a high

schooler, Wyatt Pickner was

uncertain of his life’s direction.

What he did know, though, is that he wanted to make a

difference in the way Native Americans were able to access

health care.

As a whole, Native Americans face significant health

problems such as diabetes, alcoholism and high infant mortality

rates. Their struggle for quality health care accessibility has been

marked by decades of neglect and scarce resources. Tensions

between Native traditions and modern medicine have resulted in

compromised Native American health nationwide.

It’s a circumstance Pickner was not unfamiliar with. He’s an

enrolled member of the Hunkpati Dakota/Crow Creek Sioux

Tribe, located in central South Dakota along the northern and

eastern shores of the Missouri River. He was raised in Sioux

Falls, South Dakota, among many immediate and extended

family members—one of whom is a practicing doctor of internal

medicine, Lorenzo Stars, M.D., a 1984 graduate of the USD

Sanford School of Medicine. His mother, a Sanford intensive

care employee for more than 20 years, certainly was a powerful

influence for him as well.

“Lorenzo was a big role model for me,” said Pickner of his

uncle. “Growing up, I saw how people went to him for help. He

was always there for others, and he knows how to communicate

with audiences. I admired that quality in him.”

Upon graduation from Lincoln High School in 2008, Pickner

enrolled at the University of South Dakota. The hands-on

involvement he discovered there would turn out to be the

catalyst that would help set him on the path of medical research.

Pieces began to fit together for Pickner as he found himself

more and more immersed in the culture USD offered—the

opportunities to engage in leadership, research and friendship.

But no one, including Pickner, knew exactly how his life

would unfold.

Although he hadn’t declared a major upon setting foot on

USD’s campus as a freshman, it didn’t take him long to forge his

way into health sciences. His academic advisor for about a year

and a half, Audrey Ticknor, helped guide Pickner to what he

really wanted.


Native Health


Wyatt Pickner ’14 finds research pathway at USD

By Kim Lee