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

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  929 ratings  ·  96 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, 205 pages
Published June 6th 2000 by Bantam (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Mar 25, 2016 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
Dec 25, 2008 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
Sep 24, 2012 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.
Isabel McIlhenny
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have read quite a few memoirs in the past few weeks, and all of them, including this one, have given me insight into the lives of different people in America. It has been interesting to see how where you grew up, and the community you grew up in can have an effect on your life. I was extremely intrigued by Alvord’s thought that certain aspects of native culture could be beneficial if implemented in modern medicine. I like the idea that belief and comfort can have an actual effect on how peopl ...more
Alison Petchell
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
There are many rituals performed by the Navajo but my favourite is the celebration of a baby’s first laugh in which the person who made the baby laugh must host a party and give the guests candy and rock salt on behalf of the baby and it’s family. It is believed that by doing this the baby will grow up to be generous and giving. It is also believed that the soul (also called “the wind”) enters the body soon after birth and that a baby’s laugh is a sign that the soul has become attached to the bo ...more
Sep 25, 2009 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
Oct 06, 2008 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
When I first encountered this book, I wondered how she overcame the Navajo prohibition against contact with the spirits of the dead referred to as chindi in so many Tony Hillerman novels. This barrier, and my curiosity about how traditional Navajo healing became part of her medical practice, were what drove my interest in reading this memoir.

I thought that Alvord's experiences were fascinating, and that she had a number of valuable insights to share with readers. I also felt that The Scalpel and
Jul 24, 2009 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.
I discovered this book after having watched "Medicine Woman" on PBS, the story of the first Native American female physician and her continuing impact on Native women physicians and health care administrators. The documentary was so enlightening that I sought out the memoir written by one of the contemporary physicians featured in the film. Lori Arviso Alvord, M.D. is that woman and this is her story.

Dr. Alvord is a fascinating character whose story seems in many ways miraculous. She was ed
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popsugar2020
I went into this book knowing practically nothing about the Navajo community, their traditions, and their views on medicine and healing, but found that Alvord, who became the first Navajo female surgeon, covered all 3 topics well in 'The Scalpel and the Silver Bear'. Although she does discuss her childhood and upbringing, the focus of the book in on her medical career and how she used her 'western' (non-Navajo) education back to her community while also gaining the trust of her patients, many of ...more
Richard Rhodes
Dec 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a fantastic book. I finished it quickly and enjoyed the short time I spent reading it. The author does a great job describing her upbringing as a Navajo, her experience with going to college in another state and the feeling of being alone and not fitting in. What I especially appreciated about this part was that she explained the cultural differences that separated her from her peers. She did not sacrifice her values and customs in order to "fit in", rather she found a group of fellow Na ...more
Jamie Cha
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
I give this book 4.5 stars. I got this book at a free library. I forgot about the book. Recently, found it and truly enjoyed it.

The writing is really good. The chapters are fairly short. The book really holds your attention.

Even though the book is twenty years old, it is so relevant today. The changes that are needed in health care are still talked about today. We are finally starting to see that if we want our body to heal, we, also, need to heal our mind and spirit.

The book talks about the cha
Automm Lombardo
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a worthwhile read for any individual in the medical profession. Dr. Alvord reminds us how important it is to view patients within the context of each of their cultures, beliefs, and socioeconomic situations. The Scalpel and the Silver Bear particularly highlights the experience of what it is like to be a Native American (specifically Navajo) patient and a Native American physician; however, many of the messages can be adapted across cultures and borders. The importance of community ...more
Feb 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021
This month, I read The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing by Lori Arviso Alvord, M.D. and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt. I really enjoyed it. It's an older book, originally published in 1999, but it is still extremely relevant today. The book is a personal narrative, but it also addresses more universal issues surrounding the culture of medical care in the United States. It is a easy read that manages to share a lot of serious ...more
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed the book; liked the author/doctor and her theory. Must admit that I'm biased to the mind-body connection and respecting all sentient beings, which fits nicely with the Native American belief-system.
Don't know how much Alvord's writer, co-author gets credit, but the book is short, concise and, of course, the Doctor is very likeable. My only issue was that perhaps she was too likeable, hard to believe that someone comes across with so much inherent wisdom. But perhaps that says more
Andrea Elkins
Apr 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: bio-memoir
Alvord provided a fascinating glimpse into the traditional Navajo culture, and describes how the impersonal, assembly-line practice of modern medicine negatively impact her patients' health. She details her own youth and medical training, her growth as a physician ad exposure to the medicine man, and the incorporation of mystical elements into holistic treatment for the whole mind and body. She'd be a fascinating dinner companion. ...more
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved this read. We tend to forget people’s histories and how it impacts many generations later. The concept of this book is something to consider as we live our lives. Also we should embrace the fact that so many cultures share very similar approaches to life, health, and medicine. We all can benefit from these cultures in our daily lives. Thank you Dr. Alvord for a wonderful read as well as the journey you took to get where you are. You are an inspiration to all women, young and old.
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was so cool. It's my favorite of my required readings so far. I loved learning about Navajo culture as well as reading about Alvord's journey through medicine. This was another example (along with The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down) of how western medicine needs a more holistic view and cultural sensitivity when it comes to treating patients. Navajo culture is fascinating. It's just so cool, and learning about it was my favorite part of reading this book. ...more
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
this was a great memoir and, aside from a few instances of fatphobia, was very informative. as a disabled person who has seen many, many doctors, it was refreshing to read about one who is so thoughtful of her patients and their cultures. the lack of cynicism was comforting, and it helped me put into words a lot of my own beliefs when it comes to doctor-patient relationships, hospitals and other medical institutions. highly recommend this for anyone with an interest in the medical field
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-reads
While it's no surprise that Native Americans continue to struggle, the focus on women specifically was eye-opening. While Alvord may (not quite sure on that) have been given an opening into higher education due to her demographic, she certainly deserved it. Her approach to medicine is contrary to our current culture, and very refreshing. Great choice for book club discussions. ...more
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am rating this 4 rather than 3 stars because the combination of three interesting (to me) topics: medicine, a woman's success in a male dominated profession, and Native American experience. It is a quick and interesting read.The author is now a Dean at Dartmouth, the college I associate with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris. ...more
Catherine Newell
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You know, I don't know why I bother teaching a class on religion and medicine. I should just assign my students this book and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and call it a day.

Except I know they would never read either book because I DO assign them (as part of their final assignment) and none of them read either one.
Jan 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read. Fascinating to see how Alvord was successful in making a career in western medicine whilst still keeping her Native American cultural beliefs. Awesome to see her take advantage of minority opportunity and truly succeed.
Cindy Michael
May 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting and a fairly fast read. I admit to skimming through some of the pages about Navajo culture and spiritual beliefs...but since I feel there was quite a bit of repetition I don't think I missed too much. ...more
Molly Kropp
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very good book. This was required to read before my orientation entering my first year of medical school. It was an easy, interesting read that highlighted a culture I knew little about it. There were many great talk homes that I hope to incorporate into my practice!
Diana Llovely
Read for class, however, it turned out to be an enjoyable read with a good message of Lori learning how to honor and incorporate her Navajo Heritage into her westernized education of practicing medicine.
Feb 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
An easy and interesting read about a Navajo woman who becomes a surgeon. It is an autobiography and she talks a great deal about Navajo culture and how she deals with the conflicts of the culture and her chosen occupation.
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked the focus on a more holistic approach to health care, but the book was fragmented and lacked depth.
Lynne Block
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Autobiography/Navaho traditional healing and western medicine
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  Mary Roach is a science author who specializes in the bizarre and offbeat. With a body of work ranging from deep-dives on the history of...
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“The best surgeons didn't operate on gallbladders or spleens or hearts, they operated on the people who owned them. People with children, jobs, interests, and beliefs. They operated on lives.” 0 likes
“New technologies, like biofeedback, were helping us understand that the mind can indeed control the body. New research has even shown that the mind is able to positively or negatively influence the immune system, and our body’s ability to fight against cancers and infections. Medicine men were capable of working through channels that we in Western medicine did not yet understand.” 0 likes
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