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The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  527 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
The first Navajo woman surgeon combines western medicine and traditional healing.

A spellbinding journey between two worlds, this remarkable book describes surgeon Lori Arviso Alvord's struggles to bring modern medicine to the Navajo reservation in Gallup, New Mexico—and to bring the values of her people to a medical care system in danger of losing its heart.

Dr. Alvord left
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 6th 2000 by Bantam (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,265)
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Dec 28, 2008 Stephanie rated it really liked it
It is always fun to read a book in which you find the names of people you have known in the past. In this book appear Alan Waxman MD an OB-GYN with whom I worked at the Alaska Native Medical Center in 1979, and Brooke Medicine Eagle with whom I did a vision quest in Montana. They each only get a sentence , but it was a pleasant surprise. The Beauty Way is the pathway Navajos seek to walk in life. This is a life in harmony with family, community, and nature. If a person disrupts this harmony then ...more
Nov 05, 2009 Jennifer rated it liked it
This book was an assigned reading in my medical anthropology class, a subject in which I have a great deal of personal interest. Combine that with having lived in the American Southwest, particularly in New Mexico, and I found this book an interesting read. The author does an excellent job at weaving stories of the traditional medical practices of her Navajo culture in with her profession as a biomedical physician and demonstrates how important cultural context is in the framework of disease, il ...more
Dec 03, 2008 Julie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in learning more about various practices in medicine
Recommended to Julie by: Healthcare Students of America (HOSA)
This was a really good book! I started reading it because it was on a reading list published by my Career Tech Student Organization for a competition.

This is a very fast reading book about a young Navajo woman named Lori who becomes a surgeon. This was a pretty big deal because typically the medical field does not recognize the cultures, customs, and ceremonies of the Navajo. Add to that, Lori is female. She overcomes many obstacles, becoming accepted at Dartmouth, and then becoming a respected
Eva Sanchez
Apr 04, 2016 Eva Sanchez rated it really liked it
I read this book per the recommendation of Travis Roberts and Matt Kretizer. I like the approach it took to healing as I could relate this to my personal life and having a boyfriend who had a terrible car accident in November 2014. He had a very straightforward and clinical approach to his healing at the hospital he woke up in after a two-week coma. He says at the end of a miserable day of being tied down to a chair in his room with chaos all around, all he wanted was for someone to say "Hi, how ...more
Oct 26, 2012 Kristin rated it it was amazing

I really enjoyed this non-fiction account of the life journey of the first female Navajo surgeon. It is short and simply written. This book reminds us all of some of the problems in medicine, and how all the technology in the world is useless without harmony and balance in the patient's life. Lori Arviso Alvord does such a nice job of explaining how she brought these two worlds together for the benefit of her patients. It's a lessen everyone in the healthcare industry would do well to study.
Oct 15, 2009 Kathy rated it really liked it
I appreciated this book and admire Lori Alvord for the work that she continues to do. I believe that her wisdom .....the Native American ways....apply to all of us. We need to treat our body, mind, and spirit to be well.
Mar 28, 2016 Sabrina rated it it was amazing
Loved this concept: "Navajo people have a concept called [Walking in Beauty], but it isn't the beauty that most people think of. Beauty to Navajos means living in balance and harmony with yourself and the world. It means caring for yourself--mind, body, and spirit--and having the right relationships with your family, community, the animal world, the environment--earth, air, and water--our planet and universe. If a person respects and honors all these relationships, then they will be Walking in B ...more
Kathryn Scannell
May 29, 2011 Kathryn Scannell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a nice light read. I picked it up more out of interest in the Navajo perspective than from interest in the medical or health care professions, so I think in many repsects the main thrust of the book went by me..

In some ways I had a more personal experience of this book than many readers will probably have. I grew up quite close to Dartmouth College, and in fact was in high school about five miles away during the four year period she was an undergraduate at Dartmouth. I found it interes
Apr 18, 2013 Sue rated it really liked it
I first read this book while on vacation after picking it up in a hotel gift shop. (My husband and I were driving through the reservation lands of the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico, lands of stark and arresting beauty, and sometimes, stark and arresting poverty.) I recently re-read it when it was chosen as one of our book club choices, and I liked it very much all over again.

The book is a memoir of growing up surrounded by Navajo lands and culture, of leaving those lands for the opport
Jun 06, 2013 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: doctor-books, indios
Dr. Lori Arviso describes what it’s like to be living on the edge of two cultures. She’s attempting to explain and reconcile the American ways with the Diné (Navajo) people using her medium: medicine. Interesting, good details.

She entitled her second chapter, "Walking the Path Between Worlds," from a Navajo Origin Story: So the People who started from the world below came up to this White World, and they have gone in all different directions. They were made here in the center of the earth as one
Aug 05, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Read this for a sociology class at Dartmouth about 10 years ago and found it interesting. But having re-read it now that I live in Gallup and work at GIMC (the hospital where the author works) and Crownpoint (the reservation town where the author grew up) I found it fascinating. Easy read, very worthwhile.
Martha Fiorentini
Jun 16, 2016 Martha Fiorentini rated it liked it
It was interesting to learn some things about Navajo culture and traditions. I think they have the right idea about treating the whole person and being in harmony with all creation.
May 19, 2013 paula rated it really liked it
The first Navajo woman surgeon chronicles her journey from a reservation in New Mexico to university and medical school. Her sense of isolation and "difference" during her training is strong, making the road more difficult, but her beliefs and upbringing enrich her practice, especially with Native patients. The Navajo respect for balance in one's life, "walking in beauty", a concept almost absent from the dominant culture, is found to make surgery and recovery smoother with fewer complications. ...more
Prabhat Saraswat
May 15, 2014 Prabhat Saraswat rated it liked it
Half way into, and a beautiful book about alternative medicine and the hopes it has for humanity. very moving and mystical.

Jun 14, 2010 Jme rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read and worth the while. It's a good look at what it feels like to be torn between two worlds-any two worlds. There is a lot of Navajo tradition we can see.
There are some unfortunate overgeneralizations about both cultures (Native and Western) and there are some errors about what Western medicine has and has not known in terms of the power to name a disease and the effects of music.
However, this is a personal narrative, how this woman sees the world, and that specificity has valu
Sep 28, 2008 Monty rated it really liked it
This memoir of a female Navajo surgeon published in 1999 should be on a reading list for all doctors and those who serve others. The author, many times in quite personal ways, shares her struggle with finding balance between the world of fixing disease and world of the whole person, community and environment. By the last chapter she ties it all together by expressing her philosophy about treating patients in the total milieu of their lives rather than in curing diseased body parts.

Here is a link
Julie Schilz
Jun 06, 2016 Julie Schilz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very inspiring! Great book for culturally diverse youth to read.
Josh Sheak
Jul 03, 2015 Josh Sheak rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-medicine
Dr. Alvord tells a beautiful story about her growth in Navajo culture and the influence it had on her medical education and practice. The story was inspiring and I am glad she wrote it down to share.

Her ability to draw connection between Navajo philosophy and Western Medicine is incredible. Dr. Alvord is able to clearly explain complex Navajo beliefs and further apply them in medical scenarios. I came away from this novel with a clearer understanding of what it means to be Navajo and a physician
Sara Cat
Sep 07, 2012 Sara Cat rated it it was ok
Any stars are for the unusual history and story put in this book. It is ghostwritten and the writing is fairly bland and feels like a "contracted out" written story (I guess I mean there's no unique voice), as are the insights, and the "between two worlds" trope has certainly been done better. That said, it's an interesting piece of local story. For one interested in any of the local things (Navajo culture, surgery, New Mexico, going to college/med school) it might be worth a quick read. But it' ...more
Jun 02, 2010 Nicole rated it liked it
A wonderful memoir of one woman's journey to becoming a surgeon from the Navajo reservation. I had the privledge of meeting the author in medical school and she is a remarkable speaker, both in person and via the written word. A very interesting description of her training and incorporation of her native cultural traditions with that of modern-day science. She has an easy-going writing style that allows the audience to become a part of her world (both the Navejo and the medical) with ease, even ...more
Jan 01, 2011 Jill rated it it was ok
As I expected, this was a book on an interesting topic written by someone whose first skill isn't exactly writing, which makes for difficult reading. So much seemed to be left out, for example all of the author's college years (which sound like they were emotionally very challenging) are glossed over in a few pages. Why? Too much in some places and not enough in others. An interesting perspective on an interesting topic, but I think there are better books written on this or similar subjects.
May 16, 2008 Jassjen rated it really liked it
This book is the story of a Native American woman and her experiences with our health care system. Obviously the ethnic minority thing doesn't apply, but as far as accounts of what its like to be a young female doctor in residency this is one of the best. It is a good story and there is not a lot of technical medical stuff so "the layperson" will definately enjoy it. I have recommended this book to people who have a hard time understanding what the life of a doctor is all about.
May 13, 2009 Cassandra rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Healthcare professionals who provide services to Navajos
Recommended to Cassandra by: LEND
Shelves: culture, healthcare
The first Navajo woman surgeon tells her story about reconciling her Western medicine practice with her traditional Navajo beliefs. This book provides valuable insight into the Navajo culture, particularly for those who provide healthcare services, as it aids in understanding and interacting successfully with Navajo clients. It does contain some medical jargon, but I think overall it is written in an interesting narrative format that any adult can follow and may enjoy.
Mary Jo
Oct 05, 2009 Mary Jo rated it liked it
It seemed to start out a little slow, but then got better as it went on. Interesting Navajo beliefs and some of the stories she told made you want to read on. Would like to know how she's doing now and what she's up to, since this book was written 10 years ago. Would never have chosen this book on my own. Some of the medical terminology in the beginning was a bit much but like I said, it did get better as the book progressed.
Aug 08, 2015 Dominique rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, for-school, audio
I love this story I didn't think I would like it because I had to read it for school and its not the kind of book that I like but once I started reading and more of the story came into play I got lost in Lori's stories and everything that she has been through. I just kept thinking when reading this was "I wish I was born a Native American it would be wonderful to be part of a big group like that."
May 30, 2011 Patricia rated it it was amazing
This is the second time I have read this book and each time I find out something new and intriguing. We have so much to learn from traditional tribal medicine. Perhaps, Lori's dream of a healing environment will come to be. It reminds me that we need to focus on truly being a "health care" environment vs. our current "disease care" environment. I read this book for the first time in 2005.
Mar 27, 2012 Roxie rated it really liked it
beginning this historical account of the first Navajo woman surgeon to combine western medicine and traditional healing, intense read so finished and I must say, a wonderful journey into Navajo philosophy. We can all benefit from approaching health in a balanced and harmonious way. Alvord broke the glass ceiling for Navajos and shares her gifts with everyone.
Oct 27, 2011 Jolie rated it really liked it
I really liked it. I got to experience Navajo thoughts and culture and I loved to see another person's point of view. I learned how sacred the body is to Navajos and that by opening the body (like in surgery), there is a fear that evil spirits can enter the body. Lori Alvord finds a way to bring together both surgery and Navajo culture and beliefs.
Nov 24, 2009 emily rated it really liked it
Healing is an ongoing and dynamic process. Yay for Lori Arviso Alvord for her experiments with integrating traditional Navajo practices into her clinic to create environments that foster healing physically, spiritually, socially, and environmentally. This book was recomended to me by my librarian, a relative of the author, and i am glad I read it!
Dec 28, 2010 Patricia rated it it was amazing
My cousin a research nurse read this book on a camping trip two years ago. She was smitten with the story of Lori's life....and now I am as well. In particular, the Navajo songs that celebrate beauty or the balance of life. I recommend this book for anyone who is intrested in the combination of Western and Traditional Healing.
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