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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Doctor Happy To Return To Family Roots
by Travis Noland, Cherokee Nation for Native American Times

JAY, Okla. – Although living in large urban areas offers an individual many activities, Lori Smith always longed for the more quiet, outdoors type of life. That may surprise a few, since Smith, a new pediatrician in Cherokee Nation's health system, grew up in Jenks and attended a school system that is now home to more than 10,000 students. After graduating from Jenks High School, it was on to more big cities for medical school, including the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver and pediatric residency at the University of Indiana Medical School in Indianapolis. However, she always felt right at home while visiting family in Tahlequah and traveling throughout the rural areas of the Cherokee Nation.

Smith, who is a Cherokee Nation citizen, always longed for the times she was in Oklahoma and visiting relatives in Tahlequah, which brought her closer to her Cherokee roots. Now, she has returned to that place, helping family and friends as a pediatrician at the tribe's Sam Hider Health Center in Jay.

"I have always been identified as Cherokee, but I had a great cultural mix growing up. A lot of things were subtle, like being humble, but over the years I found out that those were actually Cherokee traits I had learned," she said.

One of the Cherokee attributes Smith picked up was to teach, meaning to share wisdom and knowledge with others to help educate an individual or a family. That is one of the reasons she wanted to attend medical school and become a pediatrician.

"At Cherokee Nation, we don't just treat a disease, we actually use education," she said. "We have many prevention programs, and we also help educate those who have a disease to live the best quality of life they can live. This is especially true with the children, who, for the most part, have the medical problems they have through no fault of their own."

Smith also said she enjoys helping families who think they have run out of options and that no help is available to them.

"I helped one child here with spina bifida. He had lost all contact with his previous doctors because his mother didn't know the Cherokee Nation had resources that would help her child. There have been others I have been able to help that haven't been able to get help before," she said.

In reflecting on her childhood, Smith gets emotional when she thinks about how proud her grandparents and family from long ago would be of her being a Cherokee doctor and helping children and families in her tribe.

"Being a doctor is what I have always wanted to do. It has been a long road and there have been a lot of obstacles to overcome. But I am so happy to be home and getting to do what I love for Cherokees. I was always close to my Cherokee family, and I know I have made them happy," she said. "It feels right for me to be here."

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