Aspiring Doctor Plans to Improve Native Health
To say that Victoria Black Horse and her older sister are overachievers would be a textbook example of an understatement.
Victoria Elizabeth, or Pretty Evening Star, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, recently graduated cum laude from Willamette University, in Salem, Oregon with a Bachelor’s Degree in biology and minors in chemistry and economics.
The younger sister is following in the academic footsteps of her older sibling, Bree, who also graduated in May from the Seattle University School of Law and Policy where she was co-founder and editor-in-chief of the American Indian Law Journal.
“As an Indian mother, I have raised my daughters to serve their people and their community,” says Catherine, who watched her youngest graduate on Mother’s Day, May 10.
Despite Victoria’s rigorous pre-medical academic courses, she found time to serve her Native community, both on- and off-campus, through leadership positions in the Willamette Native American Enlightenment Association and by volunteering as mentor/tutor to students at the Chemewa Indian Boarding School.
“Chemewa is the oldest operational Indian boarding school established in the late 1800s as a tool of the government for assimilating Natives into white American society. [It was] a school used in the execution of cultural genocide. It now promotes academic excellence and achievement for Native youth and my ability to support and encourage those youth has a significant impact on my life, shaping the vision I have for creating my own Native mentoring program,” Victoria said. “My life’s mission is to serve my Native community through the capacity of mentorship, healing, and research.”
Her undergraduate summers were spent strengthening her candidacy for medical school by participating in prestigious internship positions, notably scientific and medically-based research with Harvard Medical School and the University of Notre Dame.
Victoria has been admitted to the University of Minnesota, where she will pursue her medical doctorate degree that specializes in the practice of medicine in rural and American Indian communities.
Asked what the driving impetus was that allowed her to achieve so much success so soon, Victoria says, “The idea of lifelong learning within the medical field, the ability to work as a physician healing people and having the capacity to support and engage my Native community is what drives me.
“My desire to become a medical doctor is rooted in both my love for the subject matter of the field and the unique educational opportunity this area provides me to serve the pertinent social, cultural, and physical needs of my Native community.”
Embracing her traditional upbringing that emphasizes honoring Creator and community through service, Victoria says, “My skill and knowledge foundation through academics, biomedical research, and cultural heritage illustrate my commitment to both medicine and service.” She wants to conduct clinical research that contributes to the improvement of Native American health—“specifically research that can directly affect patients—studies that address health issues plaguing Indian country.”
While admitting that over the past decade, Indian country has experienced what she calls “unprecedented success” with regard to economic self-sufficiency and tribal self-governance, “the general quality of individual health and healthcare resources available to Native peoples has not undergone the same improvement.”
To prove her point, she offers that diseases that plagued Native Americans a quarter of a century ago still run rampant today. “Within my lifetime, I am determined to witness the same kind of transformation that political and economic aspects have gone through and see those changes in the quality of Native American health and welfare.”
Citing the disproportionate impact on Native American communities through conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, alcoholism, and obesity, Victoria acknowledges that some of her family members—both immediate and extended—have been subject to several of these illnesses and that is “an influential and motivating factor in my desire to be a doctor and serve my Native community. As an enrolled Native American doctor with a background in the powwow, traditional, and Native art communities, I would be an effective advocate for healthcare outreach and education programs.”