In 1890, Dr. Charles Eastman became the first Native person to graduate from medical school in the United States. Today, one of his descendents, Victor Lopez-Carmen, is a third-year student at Harvard Medical School. He described feeling isolated there.
“I did feel alone. There wasn’t any Native person around me I could turn to,” said Lopez-Carmen.
Less than 1% of medical students in the United States identify as American Indian or Alaska Native. That’s according to a 2018 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Association of American Indian Physicians.
Lopez-Carmen is working to change that. In 2021, he co-founded the Ohiyesa Premedical Program, which provides mentorship and support to Native American students as they navigate the medical school application process.
While Lopez-Carmen is mentoring future medical students in Boston, in Oklahoma, Ashton Glover Gatewood has found community at the first medical school in the United States affiliated with a Native tribe. Gatewood attends Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation.
“I told my husband about it, and he said, ‘That sounds like they’re building you a medical school. You have to go,’” Gatewood said.
She’s noticed a “momentum” in medical training that she said could one day lessen the health care disparities Indigenous people experience.
Episode 9 explores the barriers Indigenous people face to becoming physicians and includes the stories of two medical students working to join the ranks of Indigenous health care workers in the U.S.
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