Dr. Joseph Bell


CHAPEL HILL — A scholarship endowment fund has been created at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in honor of the career of groundbreaking Lumbee pediatrician Dr. Joseph Bell.

Bell, who resides in Pembroke, is North Carolina’s first American Indian pediatrician and a longtime advocate for American Indian health.

On his 64th birthday in April, Bell was honored in his hometown for 30 years of community service. He was presented with a proclamation by the Lumbee Regional Development Association, was named an honorary lifetime member of the Lumbee Warriors Association and was bestowed a tribal song.

Bell serves as medical director of Children’s Health Pembroke and as a pediatrician with the Catawba Indian Health Service Unit.

The fund — the Dr. Joseph Bell Scholarship Endowment — was created with an initial goal of reaching $100,000.

According to a news release, a $100,000 endowment will produce a $5,000 scholarship each year, which will partially support tuition for a medical student. “As the endowment continues to grow with future contributions over time,” the release said, “so will the scholarship.”

In a 2021 article published in the N.C. Medical Journal, Bell wrote:

“One way we can improve the delivery of culturally sensitive care in Native communities is by educating and then recruiting more Native providers back to these communities. We can do this by working to increase the number of Native students going to medical school. At present, only 0.4% of all active physicians in the United States identify as Native American, and the percentage of Native Americans entering medical school is decreasing.”

Bell’s brothers — Ronny and Greg Bell — established the scholarship fund to honor their brother’s legacy by supporting medical students who identify as American Indian and are interested in pediatrics. Their hope is that the scholarship can ease students’ burden of debt and provide recipients the freedom to thrive as students while they discover their passion in medicine.

Joseph Bell, who grew up in Robeson County and is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, is a founding member of: — The North Carolina American Indian Health Board; — A member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Native American Child Health; — And a past president of the Association of American Indian Physicians.

Following his undergraduate education at UNC, Bell earned his MD degree from the UNC School of Medicine in 1986. He then spent four years at Oklahoma’s Choctaw Indian Hospital before returning to North Carolina to establish his pediatric practice.

Upon graduation from UNC, he became the first Lumbee pediatrician and the first American Indian pediatrician in North Carolina.

He has since dedicated his life to improving the health of American Indian children and providing culturally sensitive care to Native American communities in North Carolina and beyond, the news release said.

For more information on the Dr. Joseph Bell Scholarship Endowment and how to support this fund, contact Claire Veazey at [email protected] or 919.445-6738.