Native American Doctor Encourages Other Young Healers

By Finn Ryan | September 23, 2015


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Bret Benally Thompson dreamed of being a doctor from a young age but gave up his dream after his grandpa discouraged him. Thompson thinks his grandpa may have responded that way because he had never heard of anyone from the reservation becoming a physician. 

Thompson worked a number of jobs after graduating from high school, but in his 20s, while working as a deputy sheriff, Thompson realized he needed to be a doctor. “It was like a bolt of lightning kind of thing, almost like somebody else was telling me, ‘You really can be a doctor,'” explains Thompson. “I decided right then that’s what I was going to be – a doctor.” 

Thompson went back to school in his 30s. He finished college with good grades but he still had his doubts.

“I remember telling my elders, ‘This is too hard,” says Thompson. “They said, ‘No, we need you.’ How could I say no to that?”

Thompson continued to work hard and got into the medical school at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The school is known for its support of Native American medical students and its focus on rural and family medicine. It was there that Thompson found the mentor that eased his doubts and gave him permission to be the doctor he always dreamed of becoming. 

Thompson finished medical school and discovered a passion for palliative care during his residency. It’s that work that brought him to the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison where he cares for patients and mentors other young doctors. 


This story was produced by Finn Ryan for We Are Healers

Finn Ryan

Finn Ryan

Finn Ryan is an independent producer and director. His work can be viewed at

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