"As a Native American psychiatrist, I understand the psychological, social, emotional, and cultural issues confronting Native patients," says Dr. Mary Hasbah Roessel. "This helps cut through the barriers that so often confront our Native people when they negotiate the western medical field." Dr. Roessel offers to bridge the unfamiliar world of orthodox medicine and the community practices of American Indian communities to deliver health care in a compassionate and comprehensible way.
Receiving her doctor of medicine degree in psychiatry from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1987, Dr. Roessel was the first person from her Navajo community to attend medical school and become a doctor. She was not the first in her family to practice the healing arts, however. Her grandfather was a Navajo healer. As a child, Dr. Roessel remembers being inspired by the friendship between her grandfather and Dr. Karl Menninger, a psychiatrist and family friend. "They respected each other and their respective professions. I was intrigued with this combination of healing practices." Later, when she had difficulties negotiating the competitive nature of medical school, she turned to Dr. Menninger as her mentor. "The culture of medicine was foreign to me and I had difficulty adjusting to it. In the middle of medical school I finally realized that with the help of my traditional ceremonies, I had a unique contribution to make to the field of medicine and it would be a better profession with me as a physician." Dr. Roessel also credits Dr. Menninger with helping her to realize that a career in psychiatry would be a valuable resource to her Dine people.
In 1987, Dr. Roessel began her psychiatry residency and internship in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico. After passing her psychiatric boards, Dr. Roessel spent two years as an American Psychiatric Association/National Institutes of Mental Health fellow and trainee consultant. Since that time Dr. Roessel has served as a general psychiatrist to both outpatient and inpatient populations in New Mexico. Throughout her medical practice, she has incorporated her Diné traditions into the training she received at medical school. "As a Native American psychiatrist," she explained, "I felt I could make an impact on relieving emotional and psychological illness in my Native patients, with the Diné traditional practices and knowledge complementing my medical training." She has served as a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico and as a staff physician at the Northern Navajo Medical Center and the Santa Fe Indian Hospital.
Dr. Roessel is a member of the Association of American Indian Physicians and of the American Psychiatric Association Committee of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian Psychiatrists. In 1991 she was awarded the Senescu Award for Community Psychiatry by the University of New Mexico Department of Psychiatry, recognizing her work with the local populations