I belong to the Mescalero Apache clan; my fathers are the Leaf Clan, my maternal grandfathers belong to the Water Flows Together Clan, and my paternal grandfathers are the Salt Clan. My mother was from Black Rock Bear Springs. I was born in Farmington, New Mexico and grew up in Shiprock surrounded by the Navajo traditions and ceremonies. There’s a Navajo ritual for every life event. There’s even one for your baby’s first laugh. My dad had a saying, “You need to know who you are and where you come from, so you know where you are going.”
I went to Shiprock High School, and dreamed of being a big-city lawyer. I graduated at the top of my high school class and aspired to leave the reservation so when recruiters from Dartmouth College came to Shiprock, I applied for college and was accepted. After graduating from college, I worked in a tribal-related nonprofit in Washington DC, when I received a call that my mother was seriously ill and in the ICU at Shiprock Hospital. I moved home to take care of her and began working in Window Rock, Arizona on energy policy with the Division of Natural Resources. While my mother was in the Shiprock Hospital, I met an IHS doctor who recognized the importance of Navajo spiritual healing practices in the overall health of a patient. This made a big impression on me so it was at that time, I decided to become a doctor.
I attended medical school at the University of New Mexico, School of Medicine in Albuquerque and graduated in 2008. I chose internal medicine as my field of study because I enjoy the challenge of diagnosis. After medical school, I began working as an internal medicine physician at the Northern Navajo Medical Center, a 75-bed hospital, plus 6 emergency room beds and trauma room, with about 55,000 patients served annually.
Going to work on the Navajo Nation gives me an opportunity to learn about the traditions and culture of the community I serve and to really come to a place, where we are like a family. I’m in a unique position, straddling Western medicine and the old ways. Because we are in a rural location in northwest New Mexico, physicians at Northern Navajo Medical Center work hard to stay on top of our knowledge base to help patients.
The Indian Health Service scholarship program paid for all of my medical school. I had a service obligation to the IHS for 4 years, but it was not a difficult decision to stay beyond those 4 years. I’m committed serving the community and so that made it that much easier.
I am a Native American, an internal medicine physician - and I Am IHS.