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Wind River

Vanessa Sorrels

When Vanessa Sorrels graduated from the University of Wyoming with her doctor of pharmacy degree in spring of 2019, it was her goal to help her people and work at Indian Health Service in Fort Washakie. Now, her goal is a reality.

“UW supplied me with the education required to practice as a pharmacist,” she says.  “I was very fond of the smaller class sizes. Some schools of pharmacy have classes that are 150–200 students. I do not think people realize it, but that gives Wyoming a huge advantage, at least to me. It allows the opportunity to build relationships and not just be a number.”

But Sorrels route to becoming a doctor took a few turns. She left high school after her freshman year and became a young mother. Sorrels’ mother is a nurse, and that inspired her to get her CNA, certified nursing assistant, license.

“My mom was my inspiration because she was a single mother with three kids who went to nursing school while working all the time and raising us,” Sorrels says.

Sorrels took a job at a nursing home, and that’s where her interest in pharmacy developed. Although she was born in Lander, Sorrels considers Casper her hometown and earned two associate degrees from Casper College before transferring to UW.

UW became a place where Sorrels, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, could reconnect with her Native American roots. She served as president of the student organization Keepers of the Fire at UW and helped with the opening of the Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center.

“I feel that I helped create a sense of belonging and an open community where everyone is welcome,” she says. “That was my whole goal, to make a family away from family. I am not sure how many people know about Native American culture, but we are very family-oriented people—so much so that it can be detrimental if we do not find ways to cope. So, I think I accomplished that with the help of the grand opening of the Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center.”

Between pharmacy school, Keepers of the Fire and her daughter, who is now 11, Sorrels stayed busy at UW.

“I was also able to meet some wonderful people who are heavily involved with the community, and I hope to one day become highly involved as well,” Sorrels says. “Currently, when asked I attend meetings and events to speak to Native American high school students about college and careers in the medical field. I hope that I can offer valuable knowledge and maybe even be an inspiration for others that think higher education is not possible.”

Sorrels recommends UW for its community feel and personable professors. She says UW Cowboys are men and women of all colors and various backgrounds.

“Growing up in Wyoming, you generally grow up with many ‘cowboys’ even if they do not claim to be one—meaning, the definition of cowboy is definitely open for interpretation depending on who you ask,” Sorrels says. “For me it is a way of life and also an approach on how one lives their life. Cowboys are people who get up and take care of business with no complaints every day. They press on, no matter how tired they are or how hard of a task it is. They are people that if you need anything, they are dependable and have your back. They do not get offended by every little thing. Above all else, they appreciate and reciprocate hard work, honesty and respect. I feel that my work ethic and determination was taught by the resiliency of those cowboys.”


Vanessa Sorrels will be a featured speaker at the event in June, 2020

Wind River Indian Reservation  |  Date & Location TBD

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