National Cancer InstituteU.S. National Institutes of

In the Spotlight:
Dr. Jeffrey A. Henderson of the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health

Jeffrey A. Henderson, M.D., M.P.H.
Jeffrey A. Henderson, M.D., M.P.H.

Jeffrey A. Henderson, M.D., M.P.H., CRCHD Research Participant, NCI/NIH Grantee, and founder of the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health in Rapid City, South Dakota, has spent much of his career on a quest to discover the biological, social, and cultural reasons American Indians have higher rates of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease than much of the American population.

Native Americans have less access to cancer care, are not considered citizens of their state, are not eligible for state program and benefits, have lower chances of obtaining higher education, have higher unemployment rates, have higher rates of cancer mortality, and live an average of 63.6 years compared to Whites at 72 years, all of which motivates Henderson to help his people achieve better health care.

For the past five years, Henderson, the son of a Lakota Sioux Indian mother and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has conducted research and provided technical and financial management for a CRCHD Community Networks Program study (Regional Native American Community Networks Program) under a U01 grant with CRCHD Grantee Dr. Dedra Buchwald, M.D. The program involved American Indian populations in the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Plains states of Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. In 2010, Henderson, with the collaboration of Lakota traditional faith healers, finished an NIH-funded study to test colorectal cancer screening intervention among older Lakota men and women.

He is currently involved in several NCI studies, some entailing tobacco research and, since 1998, has conducted research for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's renowned "Strong Heart Study," the largest epidemiologic study of cardiovascular disease in American Indians. Henderson has also conducted first-line grant reviews for many different NIH- and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality-funded initiatives.

Henderson started his career as an oceanographer in 1986, after receiving a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, San Diego. But, once aboard ship on the high seas, seasickness set in and thoughts of being the next Jacques Cousteau (celebrated French underwater explorer, 19101997) were starting to fade. Moreover, it didn't make sense for him to be a land-based oceanographer.

Had Henderson continued as an oceanographer, he would have never met his future life partner, Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson, at a medical conference. The granddaughter of an Arizona Navajo medicine man, she is also his partner in Native American research, as well as his partner at the Black Hills Center. Nez Henderson broke a barrier by being the first Native American woman to graduate with an M.D. from Yale University School of Medicine. She has also participated in CRCHD Community Networks Program studies examining tobacco reduction among Indian youth.

An uncle, who was a physician assistant, influenced Henderson to go to medical school. In 1989, he graduated from the University of California in San Diego with his M.D. and a decade later graduated with a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Washington in Seattle. He interned at the U.S. Public Health Service Indian Hospitals in Santa Fe and Eagle Butte, South Dakota. From 19941996, he was Acting Instructor/Senior Fellow in Indian Health at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in Seattle. From 19961998, he was Medical Officer and Director of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the U.S. Indian Health Service Hospital in Rapid City, South Dakota.

In 2009, Henderson completed a three-year term serving as Chair of the HHS Secretary's National Advisory Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities. He currently serves on the National Advisory Council for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

Henderson, currently an Assistant Professor at the Native Elder Research Center, University of Colorado Health Science Center, in Denver, is the author of four book chapters and 30 scientific manuscripts, including: "In Their Own Voices: American Indian Decisions to Participate in Health Research," and "The Handbook of Ethical Research with Ethnocultural Populations and Communities," co-authored with Buchwald.

The Hendersons augment their professional lives spending time with their two children, Zahlanii and Mato, dancing and singing at pow-wows, riding bicycles, skiing, motorcycling, golfing, and hiking through the Black Hills of western South Dakota. An oasis of pine-clad mountains, the area was once home to some of the greatest legends of the American West, including Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, General George Armstrong Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Jedediah Smith.

Updated: 01/10/14