Standing Room Only Crowd Learns of BUSM Alum, first Native American Graduate of U.S. Medical School

Charles Eastman
Charles Eastman

Continuing his illumination of Boston University School of Medicine history, Doug Hughes, MD, associate dean for academic affairs, gave a presentation on Charles Eastman, MD, an 1890 graduate of BUSM and the first Native American to graduate from a medical school in the US. Hughes’ talk, titled “Oheyisha, Charles Eastman, MD, BUSM Alumnus: Tale of a man and of our school,” was hosted on March 17 by the BUSM Historical Society. He focused on the historical forces affecting Eastman’s early years and the School of Medicine’s tradition of accepting students regardless of race, creed, or gender noting for example that the first African-American woman to graduate from a medical school was Rebecca Lee Crumpler of the BUSM class of 1864.

Hughes’ “campaign” to bring important BUSM historical events and individuals and their contributions appears to be bearing fruit. Room L-112 was filled to capacity with faculty, staff and students where they learned that Oheyisha, Eastman’s birth name, was born in 1858 to the Sioux Nation in Minnesota. His early years were characterized by conflicts between the Sioux and the U.S. government including the battle of the Little Big Horn.

An 1887 graduate of Dartmouth College, Eastman came to BUSM where according to Hughes he thrived, eventually being chosen by his classmates as the class speaker. Shortly after Eastman returned to the west to the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Dakotas to bring medical care to his people, the attack on the Sioux at Wounded Knee took place. Eastman, with only a few months experience as a physician, and his wife cared for many of the wounded, which Hughes noted of the 51 in his care 44 survived.

“Eastman’s physician skills must have been excellent, to have saved so many lives under such dire circumstances is remarkable,” said Hughes. During his life, Eastman wrote a number of books and contributed articles to magazines, reviews, and encyclopedias.

Hughes also announced that a framed photograph of Dr. Eastman and framed monograph about him will be hung on the history wall in the first floor of the Instructional Building.  The purchase of the hand crafted frames was made possible by a generous donation from Rafael Ortega, MD, associate dean for diversity and multicultural affairs and professor of anesthesiology.

The mission of the BUSM Historical Society is to expose students and the community to the rich history of the School, Boston Medical Center, medicine in Boston, and the medical profession, in general.