April 29, 2009

The first Native dentist

Tribal members recruited into medical fields

By William HermannThe need for Native Americans in the health-care professions has never been greater, but the obstacles standing between them and medical degrees are often daunting, if not overwhelming.

George Blue Spruce knows those obstacles firsthand and has spent a lifetime helping others overcome them.

Blue Spruce, the nation's first American Indian dentist, is an assistant dean at A.T. Still University in Mesa, where he is helping tribal members enter the world of medicine.

At 78, Blue Spruce has a long and distinguished resume. He founded the Society of American Indian Dentists and was assistant U.S. surgeon general from 1981 to 1986. He also wrote the original draft of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act in Title 1 of federal statutes.

Now "retired," he is pursuing what he calls his true life's work: traveling the nation to tell young American Indian men and women that the medical professions need them, and perhaps more importantly, that their people need them to be in the medical professions.

1 comment:

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:


George Blue Spruce Jr.

The first American Indian dentist

Although he officially “retired” 25 years ago, “He continues to work hard to enhance the health of American Indian peoples and to encourage Indian people to become dentists as well as leaders in other health professions,” according to the American Indians in Health Careers web page.

“For nearly two decades, I was the only identified Indian dentist until numbers started picking up when federal programs began to open up dental schools to increase the numbers of Indian and other minority dentists,” said Blue Spruce, who currently functions as an assistant dean at the A.T. Still University/Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health in Mesa.

There’s still a long way to go in that effort however. With 150 American Indian dentists in the country, “That means roughly one for every 32,000 American Indians while the rate among the rest of the population is about one to every 1,200 people,” said Carol Grant, the college’s director of American Indian Health Professions.