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Nathan Furukawa

Fighting for Equity Through his Passion for Medicine and Public Health

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Nathan’s journey encompasses many different stops — from Montana to Seattle and Cape Town — before arriving at the Humanity in Action New York Fellowship in 2009.

Understanding the experience of being ‘the other’, Nathan’s interest in medicine shifted from a fascination with physiology to a desire to use medicine as a tool to correct injustice and inequity.

By virtue of being of mixed Japanese and Chinese ancestry and growing up in Montana, he became familiar with the experience of being perceived as an outsider, and in some instances, being a canvas for others to project their labels and preconceptions. He initially dreamed of being a doctor due to his fascination with the complexity of human biology, which led him to study biochemistry at Seattle University. This dream shifted through his experiences volunteering at the county safety-net hospital in Seattle, Harborview Medical Center, and in a convalescent home for children orphaned by HIV in Cape Town, South Africa. Through these experiences, he realized how health is mostly determined by the social, economic, and political factors that influence early life.

Understanding the experience of being ‘the other’, Nathan’s interest in medicine shifted from a fascination with physiology to a desire to use medicine as a tool to correct injustice and inequity.

  • Nathan Furukawa

Nathan began to see the parallels between South African apartheid and American segregation, their sexual violence and our misogyny, and our collective widening inequality and inadequate public response to mitigate these social ills. Again, his passions shifted toward public health and wanting to use medicine and epidemiology as a tool to improve the health of individuals and populations. As Nathan began to deeply understand the drastic health consequences of economic deprivation, social exclusion, and inequality, he searched for experiences to broaden his understanding of social equity and human rights. His search led him to the Humanity in Action Fellowship. For Nathan, the best thing about the Humanity in Action Fellowship was

“The community of brilliant Fellows it brought together and the vibrant environment of inventive ideas, lively debate, and critical thinking it fostered.”

Nathan FurukawaWhether they were exploring the community and infrastructure challenges posed by economic development and gentrification or arguing about the role of and extent to which governments should redressing past inequities, there was a deep respect for the life experiences and knowledge each Humanity in Action Fellow brought to the program.

Nathan is currently an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and works in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. It is an exciting time as the necessary tools exist now to prevent new HIV infections. The United States has launched an ambitious plan on Ending the HIV Epidemic in the next 10 years. As a part of this larger effort, Nathan is working on promoting the widespread implementation of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), reducing healthcare stigma among men who have sex with men, and investigating and responding to expanding clusters of HIV infection among people who inject drugs. This work represents the intersection of his passion for medicine, public health, care for vulnerable populations and human rights. To say it is his dream job is an understatement!

“The Humanity in Action Fellowship broadened my understanding of how individuals can go about enacting social change.”

Nathan also makes sure to give back to Humanity in Action. He was a speaker in both the John Lewis program and the 2018 Fall International Conference. His talk “How Poverty and Inequality Harms us All” was received with great enthusiasm from the conference attendees and Nathan is happy to connect with many Fellows and Senior Fellows who are interested in the intersection of social equity and health.

Check out some of Nathan’s recent publications:

  • Yan LD, Furukawa NW, Oleng N, Hagopian A. The Health of Refugees and Displaced Persons: A Public Health Priority. American Public Health Association Policy Statement. 2018. Available here.
  • Furukawa NW, Pacino V, Hagopian A, Bezruchka SA. Reducing income inequality to advance health. American Public Health Association Policy Statement. November 7, 2017. Available here.