Inspiring grads: Erica Bhatti

As a citizen of the Lac du Flambeau Tribe of Wisconsin, Erica Bhatti’s dream has been to return to her mother’s reservation as a doctor and give back by providing her fellow citizens with medical care.

Erica Bhatti
Erica Bhatti is graduating on Dec. 10. Photo provided.

The University of Illinois Chicago student will be one step closer to achieving this goal when she graduates from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dec. 10 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. Bhatti plans to continue her studies in medical school.

She described the reservation, which is more than 350 miles north of Chicago in northern Wisconsin, as a quaint community of about 2,000 people, where her mother’s side of the family lives as citizens. As a child, she lived with her parents in Paris, France, before relocating to Wisconsin.

“I grew up outside in the Northwoods, learning how to fish and gather medicines; it’s a very beautiful and traditional way of life up there,” Bhatti said.

After attending a local community college near her home in Wisconsin her freshman year, she realized that she needed more research opportunities and looked at Chicago and UIC as places that could offer her more to achieve her dreams. What drew her to UIC was its focus on research, which would go along with her focus as a pre-medicine student.

During a visit to campus before her sophomore year, she was pleasantly surprised to discover that UIC had an active Native American Support Program. She then learned that since 2019 the university has been offering in-state tuition to students who are members of any of the 573 tribal nations recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“I chose to go to UIC because it leads in research, and I knew I wanted to be in pre-medicine so that was the big reason why I came and toured the campus,” Bhatti said. “Then I saw that there was a recognized Native American Support Program, and in-state tuition and that was the cherry on top. That program has saved me thousands of dollars.”

For her research she became involved in the Path 2 Purpose study, which is a free, voluntary program for teenagers who want to improve their mood and learn coping skills to manage difficult situations. Pioneered by leading universities including UIC, the study is a clinical trial that will determine how best to help teens build healthy lifestyles.

“I just really enjoyed the interaction I had with teens. I was able to have research experience under my belt. so that has been really helpful,” she said.

Bhatti, who is president of the Native American and Indigenous Students Organization, credited the Native American Support Program for extending its reach off campus to the American Indian Center of Chicago, with whom it holds close ties. She said this allowed her to be exposed to more of what Chicago had to offer in regard to Indigenous issues. The Native American Support Program also connected her with the American Indian Health Service of Chicago, which she expects will be a resource as an Indigenous physician in the future. 

“As president of NAISO, I planned events, collaborated with other student organizations, connected with my peers, and assisted in planning the annual UIC Powwow,” Bhatti said. “Obtaining this title was very exciting and important for me as I have learned some important life skills like leadership and outreach. I was very proud to represent Indigenous students at UIC.” 

She said she plans to take a gap year to study for the medical school entrance exam and gain more experience with patients by working in a hospital or getting certified to work on an ambulance. She would like to get a dual degree that would allow her to earn her medical degree as well as a master’s in public health.

“UIC has guided me tremendously in terms of what I want for my future,” Bhatti said.

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