Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord bridges two worlds of medicine—traditional Navajo healing and conventional Western medicine—to treat the whole patient. She provides culturally competent care to restore balance in her patients’ lives and to speed their recovery.
As a Stanford-trained surgeon, she developed her technical and clinical skills. Alvord was the first Navajo woman to be board certified in surgery. But when she returned to the New Mexico 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. 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 ills, 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 (hataalii) use song, symbols (such as corn pollen, eagle feathers, masks of the Navajo gods, and sand paintings), 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.
Here’s a video of her delivering the Keynote Address to the University of Utah School of Medicine class of 2013:
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