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Lori Arviso Alvord, MD, is an author, mentor, general surgeon, and the first member of the Navajo Nation to be board certified in general surgery. She was raised in Crownpoint, NM, which is located approximately 130 miles from Albuquerque and is fairly remote. Descriptively, Dr. Alvord is of the Tsinnajinnié (also known as the Black Streaked Wood or Ponderosa Pine clan) and the Ashi’hii,’ or Salt People clan of the Diné, or Navajo Nation people. Dr. Alvord attended Dartmouth College, graduating cum laude in 1979 with a double major in psychology and sociology, modified with a focus on Native American studies.
Dr. Alvord went on to graduate from the Stanford University School of Medicine and completed her general surgery residency there in 1991. She then joined the Indian Health Service at the Gallup Indian Medical Center (GIMC), NM, for 6 years, completing the circle of her educational journey and returning to care for members of the Navajo Nation. There she identified some of her first cultural challenges in caring for her own tribal members.
She valiantly tried to improve the cultural competency of her fellow providers. Western medicine made it difficult to provide care that respected the Navajo culture. She understood the properties of Navajo ceremonies that promoted mental and physical wellness and understood how ceremonies were effective in delivering a better state of mind in patients enduring a medical condition.
In 1997 she accepted the position of associate dean of student affairs and multicultural affairs at Dartmouth Medical School, and assistant professor of surgery, serving for 12 years. She has given commencement addresses at five medical schools, and the baccalaureate address at Dartmouth College in 2017.
Dr. Alvord approaches traditional medicine with an understanding that a stressed mind can impair the immune system, and the use of ceremony was needed to restore harmony, balance, peace, and an interconnectivity that allows patients to heal personal relationships and thus create stronger communities around us. Respecting nature as sacred and allowing the family of Mother Earth and Father Sky to intermingle with the development of western societal norms was the philosophy Dr. Alvord was trying to administer.
Dr. Alvord’s memoir, The Scalpel and the Silver Bear, one of her most notable accomplishments, tells of her cultural journey from reservation to the operating room and of her work to combine traditional Navajo philosophies of healthcare with that of Western medicine.
She is currently with Astria Sunnyside and Astria Toppenish Hospital, WA, as chief of staff. Her research interests focus on American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) healthcare with publications in surgical outcomes and decision-making in AI/AN patients. Dr. Alvord has served on the ACS Division of Education’s Committee on Preceptorships for Practicing Physicians since 2018.