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Family Practice: Cherokee Surgeon Becomes Third Generation Health Care Provider

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Dr. Deborah McAlister followed her family’s medical path of serving American Indians on her home reservation.

The Cherokee surgeon’s great-grandmother Sue Lawrence-McAlister graduated from the Cherokee National Female Seminary in Tahlequah, and later taught there. Her grandfather served as a dermatologist and a radiologist, and her father was a physiatrist.

In January 2011, the orthopedic surgeon began operating at Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

“I think I can bring skills here for us to help our patients at our hospital and eliminate the need for them to travel to larger cities to have the procedures performed,” she said in a Cherokee Nation press release.

McAlister emphasizes the cost savings to the tribe of performing specialized services locally rather than outsourcing or sending patients elsewhere. “In the past there has been some hesitancy to perform knee and hip replacement surgery here at Hastings. I want to change that and for us to serve our patients who need these services here in our hospital,” she said. “To be a sovereign nation we have to have sustainable health care and maintain all things here. My desire is to bring in new and different ways of treatment—to bring that one small piece of the pie here to help improve our health care.”

McAlister honed her development skills in replacement surgeries, primarily knee and hip, while serving in private practice in Shawnee for the past three years. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma Medical School, completed her residency at OU and her fellowship studies at the University of Utah Medical School in Salt Lake City.