Physician, healer, author speaks at The Woods

February 23rd, 2011 | SMWC

Dr. Lori Alvord

Dr. Lori Alvord

Bridging two worlds of medicine, traditional Navajo healing and conventional Western medicine, to treat the whole patient, is the focus of the Lori Arviso Alvord, M.D. presentation at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) on March 2, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the Cecilian Auditorium. The lecture is a part of the College’s Four-Star Series, which is designed to bring talented performers and presenters to campus to enrich the community and enhance theCollege’s curriculum. This unique presentation is free and open to the public.

Dr. Alvord left her reservation in New Mexico to attend Stanford University Medical School, becoming the first Navajo woman surgeon. Rising above the odds presented by her own culture and the male-dominated world of surgeons, she returned to the reservation to find a new challenge.

When Alvord returned to the reservation to work in a Navajo community she discovered, she says, that “although I was a good surgeon, I was not always a good healer.”

She explains, “I went back to the healers of my tribe to learn what a surgical residency could not teach me. From them I have heard a resounding message: Everything in life is connected. Learn to understand the bonds between humans, spirit, and nature. Realize that our illness and our healing alike come from maintaining strong and healthy relationships in every aspect of our lives.”

Surgery can remedy many illnesses and conditions, but as Alvord worked with her Navajo patients she learned that modern scientific medicine by itself could not reestablish the missing harmony in their health. Navajo healers use song, symbols and ceremony with their patients, and involve family and neighbors in the process. The psychological and spiritual comfort thus provided can prepare patients for surgery, childbirth, or chemotherapy, for example, and speed their recovery afterwards.

Alvord tries to heal, not just fix, her patients by working with families, other practitioners, and constant cultural awareness. She looks for the places in the patient's life, relationships and environment where things are out of balance. Alvord brings these principles to the world of medicine in her book, The Scalpel and the Silver Bear whose ideas have changed medical practices.

Dr. Alvord is currently the associate dean of student affairs at College of Medicine at Central Michigan University. Prior to joining Central Michigan, she served as an assistant professor of surgery and psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School and as an adjunct assistant professor of comparative literature at Dartmouth College. She also was an associate faculty member for the Center for American Indian Health at JohnsHopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. From 1997 to 2009, Alvord was the associate dean of student and multicultural affairs for Dartmouth Medical School.

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