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‘American Diagnosis’: Two Indigenous Students Share Their Path to Medicine

‘American Diagnosis’: Two Indigenous Students Share Their Path to Medicine

‘Rezilience,’ Season 4 of the ‘American Diagnosis’ podcast, traces the resilience of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. taking action to protect the health and well-being of their communities.

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Episode 9: “Two Paths, Two Future Physicians”

In 1890, Dr. Charles Eastman became one of the first Native people to graduate from medical school in the United States. Today, one of his descendants, 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.

A digital illustration in pencil and watercolor. A smiling Indigenous woman wearing is wearing doctor's coat and has a stethoscope around her neck. She wears a pair of dangly beaded earrings which are orange, black, and white. The earrings appear to be radiating light, to emphasize their importance in the image.
(Oona Tempest/KHN, Little E Creations (Earrings))

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.

Voices from the episode:

  • Victor Lopez-Carmen, student at Harvard Medical School — @vlocarmen
  • Mary Owen, director, Center of American Indian and Minority Health at the University of Minnesota, and president, Association of American Indian Physicians

Season 4 of “American Diagnosis” is a co-production of KHN and Just Human Productions.

Our Editorial Advisory Board includes Jourdan Bennett-BegayeAlastair Bitsóí, and Bryan Pollard.

To hear all KHN podcasts, click here.

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[Correction: This article was updated at 11:15 a.m. ET on July 27, 2022, to accurately characterize Dr. Charles Eastman’s academic milestone.]