Fighting Against Invisibility in Indigenous Health Care
Victor Anthony Lopez-Carmen
Indigenous Health Advocate
2017 Fulbright U.S. Student to Australia
Victor Lopez-Carmen is all too aware of the disparities Indigenous Americans encounter in the U.S. healthcare system – as a child he suffered third-degree burns that could only be treated at a hospital many miles away from his village. As he told The Harvard Gazette: “I know that invisibility in the field of health care can be life or death for my people.” His decision to become a doctor is rooted in his desire to challenge that invisibility and ensure that Indigenous Americans have equal access to health care. Lopez-Carmen is a member of both the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and the Pascua Yaqui Nation. He was raised among a passionate community of activists who have dedicated their lives to preserving their cultures and languages, and to raising awareness of the vast inequities many Indigenous communities face.
As an undergraduate student at Ithaca College, Lopez-Carmen was a vocal activist for increased Native American representation on campus. His leadership among the student body resulted in the establishment of a Native American Studies program at the college.
In 2018, Lopez-Carmen was selected for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program – the first recipient of a Fulbright grant from his tribal nation. His Fulbright took him to Western Sydney University in Australia, where he completed a master’s in public health with high honors. His research focused on Indigenous health equality and increasing culturally sensitive care for Aboriginal youth and their families.
The scope of Lopez-Carmen’s accomplishments as a Fulbrighter extended well beyond his academic achievements. He leveraged his time in Australia to connect with Indigenous community leaders, key decision makers, and policy makers in higher education and the private sector to maximize the impact of his research. He received an award from the Lois Roth Endowment in 2018 to extend the scope of his research to the Lokono-Arawak Tribe in Barbados and spoke at a TEDx event about the philosophy behind the Seventh Generation Earth Ethic, the Indigenous idea of making environmental decisions in accordance with how those decisions will impact the land for the next seven generations.
Since 2018, Lopez-Carmen has also served on the UN Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (UNGIYC) as a representative of his tribal nation. The UNGIYC works with policy makers and organizations to participate in international decision-making processes and to raise awareness of the issues that will impact their lives, especially regarding the effects of climate change on Indigenous communities.
Lopez-Carmen’s goal has always remained to become a doctor and provide his community with comprehensive physical and spiritual healthcare. When the onset of COVID-19 emphasized the scarcity of proper resources, guidance, and care for Native communities in the U.S., he raised thousands of dollars in relief funds for Native communities and founded Translations 4 Our Nations, an initiative to translate critical COVID-19 information into Indigenous languages. Within the first six months of the pandemic, his organization had recruited 140 translators from around the world with experience in at least 100 languages.
Lopez-Carmen is currently in his third year at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and is the first member of his tribal nation to attend medical school. He is co-president of the HMS Native American Health Organization and has collaborated with faculty and students to make HMS and the U.S. healthcare system a more inclusive place by developing modules on Indigenous health for the HMS curriculum and working with faculty to create an Indigenous youth pipeline to the medical school. Earlier in 2021, he was recognized for his advocacy for Indigenous rights and health and his efforts to increase inclusivity in medical education by becoming the first Indigenous American to be awarded the national Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship.