The North Carolina Medical Society is helping celebrate National Native American Heritage Month by introducing you to the remarkable Susan La Flesche Picotte.

She was the first Native American female to earn a medical degree and practice western medicine. La Flesche applied to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and graduated a year early and first in her class. At 24, she returned to the Omaha reservation and became the sole doctor for more than 1,200 people across 400+ miles.

La Flesche was born June 17, 1865 on Nebraska’s Omaha reservation to Chief Iron Eye (Joseph La Flesche) and his wife One Woman (Mary Gale).

As a young girl, she watched a sick American Indian woman wait all night for a white doctor who, after being called for several times, never came. The woman died the next day and, as La Flesche later wrote, she “saw the need of my people for a good physician.”

Her father made sure Susan learned the traditions of her people, but also pushed his children to be educated in Euro-American society for their own survival. After a trip to Washington D.C. in the 1830s, he told his people “There is a coming flood which will soon reach us, and I advise you to prepare for it.”

Learn more about Susan La Flesche Picotte here.

To learn more about National Native American Heritage Month click here.