Lori Arviso Alvord ’79 Becomes First Navajo Surgeon

"I visited Dartmouth thanks to the Native Fly-In Program, and was intrigued."

The following is an excerpt from a 2013 Dartmouth News piece written by Chidi Anyadike '13, who connected with several Native American alumni to learn about their paths to and from Dartmouth. 

A graduate of Stanford Medical School, Lori Arviso Alvord ’79 was the nation’s first Navajo surgeon and wrote about combining Navajo healing philosophies with Western medicine in her book “The Scalpel and the Silver Bear.” She previously worked at the Geisel School of Medicine as associate dean of student and multicultural affairs and assistant professor of surgery and psychiatry.

"I knew almost nothing about Ivy League schools when I was in high school. I met a Navajo student who was at Princeton who encouraged me to apply there. I asked him how many Native students were there, and he said there were five. I could not imagine going somewhere where there were only five Native students, and so he recommended Dartmouth. They had about 30. I visited Dartmouth thanks to the Native Fly-In Program, and was intrigued.

The Native American Program made it possible for me to attend and succeed at Dartmouth. The most important part of the program was the social and emotional support. When I was at Dartmouth, the Native Program and the Native community were one and the same. We did not know where one ended and the other began. I do not know that I would have been able to stay at Dartmouth without the support of the program.

I owe my first job to my Dartmouth degree, and my path to medicine. It was as a research assistant in a neurobiology lab. I had no experience, but the neurologist said he knew that I had a Dartmouth degree, and he could probably train me to do anything he needed me to do. He encouraged me to consider becoming a physician. I wasn’t sure that I could succeed, but his belief in me gave me the confidence to try. The academic preparation at Dartmouth definitely helped me achieve my dreams."

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Photo courtesy of Dartmouth Library, taken by Lori Cupp ‘79