George Blue Spruce, DDS, MPH ’67, UC Berkeley School of Public Health Public Health Administration Program graduate, New Mexico Laguna / Ohkay-Owingeh Pueblos Fellow, and first Native American dentist, won 2020 award Lifetime Achievement Award from the Josiah Macy Jr..
This award recognizes social mission excellence in health education and was presented virtually this year at the Beyond Flexner conference, co-hosted by AT Still University and the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation from Arizona State University. Dr Blue Spruce says the award will allow him to practice community medicine on a larger scale.
Dr. Blue Spruce was born in 1931 at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital School. Blue Spruce’s parents were forced into federal residential schools as children in New Mexico in the early years. 1900. Forced to assimilate into the mainstream culture, he says his parents made it their mission to ensure that their son succeeds through formal education while participating in activities that allowed him to develop his confidence. in him and to stay in touch with his roots.
After meeting a mentor who was interested in his accomplishments and who turned out to be a dentist, Blue Spruce decided he was “in awe of this man and what he did” and wanted to be like him. He then attended Creighton University in Arizona; when he graduated in 1956, he became the country’s first Native American dentist.
“I had many challenges being the only Indigenous student on a college campus and I was very shy and lonely, but I had to adapt to accept the challenges that come with it, getting the necessary grades. to apply to dental school, ”he said. . “I took it upon myself to overcome the challenges that were there; self-discipline has helped me succeed.
He was also drawn to dentistry because of the attention to detail he saw impressing his father as a cabinetmaking teacher at the local Indian School in Santa Fe. When Blue Spruce entered the school. dental school, his observations on his father’s precision and accuracy while teaching and sculpting were the lessons he took with him.
“Dentistry was not just a profession that allowed me to be precise, it allowed me, like my father, to be successful in everything I do, especially the things that are important to me,” said Blue. Spruce. “It was all of that, plus the fact that it took away the pain, gave a good smile, allowed people to chew effectively – all of those things were equally exciting – the set was just how I wanted to serve my community and be. the dentist for my tribe.
Blue Spruce’s aspirations ultimately led him to Berkeley Public Health, after which he worked for the World Health Organization helping communities in South America, as well as writing legislation for India’s Law on the 1976 Health Care Improvement, which allowed Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement of services. provided to Native Americans and Alaska Natives in Indian Health Services (IHS) and Tribal Health Care Facilities. He also spent 21 years in the Indian health service.
His education at Berkeley Public Health taught him the similarities in health inequalities experienced by underserved populations in the United States and elsewhere, he says, and he is very proud to carry on the legacy of working to eliminate them. , especially in the Native American community.
“It carries a lot of weight when people, especially American Indians, see an American Indian face and know that an American Indian has done all of this,” he said.
George Blue Spruce is the author of a memoir, In search of my destiny.