The Ohiyesa Premedical Program

In 1887, a Mdewakanton Dakota man by the name of Ohiyesa, also known as Dr. Charles A. Eastman, embarked on a challenging journey from his remote village to study medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine. In his biography, he wrote of his acceptance to medical school: “A high ideal of duty was placed before me, and I was doubly armed in my original purpose to make my education of service to my race.”

Upon his graduation in 1890, he became the first Native American man in the U.S. to become a physician. He went on to practice medicine at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, and to advocate for more just Native American health policies at the federal level. In 2019, one of Ohiyesa’s great, great, grandchildren enrolled at Harvard Medical School and became the first enrolled male member of his Tribe to attend medical school. This program is designed in the spirit of Ohiyesa and his trailblazing contributions to the Boston medical community and Native American health.

Executive Summary

Program Sponsorship

The program is funded through a private donation and administered through the Front-Line Indigenous Partnership Program based at the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Department of Global Health and Population.


A yearlong longitudinal program designed to engage, support, and promote motivated Native American Tribal and/or community college students interested in pursuing a healthcare career, with a program focus on the physician pathway. The program will enroll 8 Native American and Alaskan Native students at Tribal or community colleges. Preference will be given to Tribal college students and those interested in becoming physicians, but applications are also open to Native American community college students and those interested in healthcare careers generally.

The program will provide participants an immersive experience in a wide range of medical specialties, interactive workshops practicing simulation based procedural skills, workshops delineating the roadmap to successfully applying to medical school, and faculty mentorship.

The program includes a 3 week summer program on site in Boston at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and subsequent quarterly virtual group meetings as well as individual virtual meetings with faculty sponsors/mentors for the calendar year of matriculation. The on-site program culminates in a presentation to Harvard Medical School students, staff, and faculty, while the off-site portion culminates with an end of year final reflection paper, certificate of completion, and a letter of recommendation for each participant.

Program Rationale

According to the American Medical Association, Native Americans make up 3% of the U.S. population, but only make up .002 % of physicians. Similar disparities are seen in other health careers. Furthermore, only 9% of medical schools have more than 4 Native medical students, and 43% have none. Native Americans also make up .001% of medical school faculty nationwide. Simply put, there are not enough Native Americans in the healthcare pipeline. This is troubling given Native Americans have higher than average rates of 15 of the 16 leading causes of death.  This program will play a necessary role in supporting 8 promising Native American youth from Tribal colleges to become medical professionals. If successful, the program can continue to be a part of the solution for years to come.

Program Description

A. Summer Program

Includes a 3-week experiential summer program in Boston at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  Students will have the opportunity to gain clinical exposure by shadowing physicians in a variety of clinical settings, practice simulation based procedural skills, well as participate in interactive small group panels and workshops.

In depth exposure to careers in healthcare to include the follow activities among others:

  • Shadowing a variety of physicians in the outpatient and inpatient setting at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and affiliated sites
  • Small group seminars on delineating the roadmap and providing the framework to successfully apply to medical school
  • Interactive panels of physicians from a wide range of specialties to explore the diversity of practice settings and patterns including those involved in Indigenous health
  • Interactive workshops conducted at STRATUS Center for Medical Simulation on topics such as basic and advanced airway management, basic life support, use of AEDs, Stop the Bleed training, introduction to laparoscopic techniques, and basic wound care
  • Small group sessions with current Harvard Medical School students and faculty regarding the medical school application process and life as a medical student
  • Small group sessions with current residents from a variety of specialties
  • Introduction to research and careers in academic medicine
  • Opportunities for cultural outings and visiting Boston
  • A science/op-ed writing workshop with staff from the Boston Globe
  • Faculty education sessions on Indigenous and minority health
  • Reflection paper and final presentations attended by Harvard Medical School students and faculty

B. Longitudinal Component

Following completion of the onsite summer program participants will attend quarterly virtual group meetings as well as individual virtual meetings with faculty sponsors/mentors for the calendar year of matriculation. Discussion topic areas will be based on a needs assessment conducted of participants during the summer program on optimal ways to support students in their path to a career in medicine (i.e. facilitating linkages to tutors, facilitating research opportunities, conducting literature searches, Indigenous health and advocacy, leadership skills development)

  • On successful completion of the program participants will receive a certificate and a letter of support from program lead who is a Harvard Medical School faculty member

Application Process

This program can empower 8 Indigenous youth for maximum impact in their respective communities, for the benefit of their health careers, Boston’s medical community, and the health of Indigenous communities everywhere.  If successful this pilot program can be expanded for greater impact and outreach.

  • Timeline for application and selection process:
    • Nov 15: Applications open
    • January 31: Applications close
    • By Feb 28: Notification of acceptance sent to selected participants
  • Program year timeline:
    • Summer program matriculation: Friday June 24- Friday July 15
    • Quarterly Meeting I: Saturday, October 8th
    • Quarterly Meeting II: Saturday, January 21st
    • Quarterly Meeting III: Saturday, April 15th
    • Quarterly Meeting IV and final reflection paper due: Saturday, June 4th
  • Application Materials
    • Two short essays
    • 1-page resume
    • 2 reference letters from a faculty member at Tribal College or Community College and one other person of their choosing
  • Selection Criteria
    • Must be Native American and/or Alaskan Native. Formal enrollment in ones Tribal Nation(s) encouraged but not mandatory
    • Interested in becoming a physician or career in healthcare
    • Age 18+
    • Currently an enrolled student at a Tribal College or Community College (preference given to Tribal College students)
  • Selection Committee
    • Dr. Valerie Dobiesz
    • Victor A. Lopez-Carmen
    • Dr. Irini Albanti