Three months into her role as associate dean for student affairs and admissions at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, Lori Alvord, MD, is moving forward with plans to make sure the student experience is nothing short of exceptional. “For me, it’s very rewarding to help guide a student and give them good advice and see them progress through medical school and choose a specialty that’s a good fit for them.”
Dr. Alvord, who began her new role on Sept. 5, came to the UA from Central Michigan University College of Medicine, where she helped develop a new medical school. Before that, she served from 1997 to 2009 as associate dean for student affairs at Dartmouth Medical School, her alma mater (DC ’79) – now the Audrey and Theodor Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. At the UA she also is professor of surgery, an appointment she also held at Central Michigan.
Dr. Alvord's background is quite fascinating. She was raised in New Mexico, and is half Navajo. She is a member of the Tsi’najinni’ and Ashihii Dine Clans (Ponderosa Pine and Salt People clans.) As a Stanford-trained surgeon, she developed her technical and clinical skills. Dr. Alvord was the first Navajo woman to be board certified in surgery, and spent her first six years in practice at the Indian Health Service hospital in Gallup, N.M. But when she returned to the reservation to work in a Navajo community she discovered 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." Dr. Alvord’s book about her journey, The Scalpel and the Silver Bear, Bantam, 1999, is currently used in courses in many universities, and she has continued her efforts to understand the healing powers of Native American ceremonies.
While she has many goals for her tenure at the UA, one priority is to reduce student indebtedness. “Scholarship development is one of the most pressing issues we face. These awards not only recognize the quality of our students, but make a significant difference in their daily lives because they relieve the stress of worrying about finances. They also allow a student the freedom to choose any medical specialty.
“A second issue, in my view, is to increase the richness of what we can offer educationally. The more diverse a class is, the more the students help to educate and inform one another through the whole process. And in that regard diversity is not just about ethnicity. It’s about diversity of genders and socioeconomic status and a variety of undergraduate majors and the diversity of past experiences, and where they come from. You can imagine if everybody were the same, you would end up with a group that really didn’t learn that much about the larger group they are ultimately going to care for, as we expect them to be able to practice anywhere in the world.
“The more our students can be exposed to a variety of different types of people,” Dr. Alvord said, “the better I think they become at being able to serve a wide range of patients.”