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Dr. Mary Hasbah Roessel





Year of Birth / Death

b. 1958


Medical School

University of Minnesota Medical School


Geography

LOCATION
New Mexico


Career Path

Psychiatry
Dr. Mary Hasbah Roessel



Milestones

YEAR
1987
ACHIEVEMENT
Dr. Mary H. Roessel was the first person in her Navajo community to attend medical school and become a doctor.
YEAR
1991
ACHIEVEMENT
Dr. Mary H. Roessel was the first woman Navajo psychiatrist to provide Indian Health Service clinical care in New Mexico.


Inspiration

I became a doctor because I wanted to serve my Native people in a meaningful way by incorporating my Dine traditions with my western medical knowledge. As a Native American psychiatrist, I felt I could make an impact on relieving emotional and psychological illness in my Native patients, with the Dine traditional practices and knowledge complementing my medical training.



Biography

"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



Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

The completion of medical school was the biggest obstacle. 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. I was able to overcome this obstacle with the guidance, protection, and healing from my traditional Dine ceremonies and my family.

How do I make a difference?

My priority is to provide quality psychiatric care as a Dine woman psychiatrist to the Native people I serve. The difference I make to the Native people I serve is to be compassionate and skilled in providing their psychiatric care. There are so few Native psychiatrists in the United States, that as a Native American psychiatrist, I understand the psychological, social, emotional, and cultural issues confronting the Native patients, and this helps cut through the barriers that so often confront our Native people when they negotiate the western medical field.

Who was my mentor?

My family was a great support, but in my field I would have to say Dr. Karl Menninger, who was a psychiatrist and a friend to my parents and grandfather. Dr. Karl would come and sit and visit with my grandfather who was a Navajo medicine man. They respected each other and their respective professions, and I was intrigued with this combination of healing practices. In medical school he would encourage me when I had difficulties negotiating the medical culture. He helped me realize psychiatry would be a valuable resource to my Dine people.


National Library of Medicine