The people who come to see Dr. Tieraona Low Dog don't care that she never graduated from high school. She went back for an equivalency degree, after all, then an undergraduate degree, then a medical degree. More important, her treatments make her patients well. After that, a high school diploma is a small matter.
Low Dog, 41, is the medical director of the Treehouse Center in Albuquerque, N.M., and the moment you get there, you know you're not in an ordinary clinic. It's partly the eponymous tree that grows through the center of the building, partly the soft cotton gown you wear during an exam instead of a crinkly paper disposable one. Mostly, however, it's the treatment you receive--a lyrical balance of Western pharmaceuticals, traditional botanicals and sensible advice on lifestyle changes.
The guiding hand behind these gentle cures is Low Dog--whose name reflects her Native American heritage. In her teens, she studied herbal cures with traditional healers and learned the power of curative plants. But botanicals, she decided, weren't the whole answer. Wellness meant stress management too. It also meant being willing to use the powerful if hard-edged tool of Western medicine. So she returned to school, earned her M.D. at the University of New Mexico, and now practices a rich mix of healing arts. Her clinic is a place where pain may be treated just as easily with acupuncture, kava kava root and preparations from the black cohosh plant as with prescription drugs. "Illness is a message," she says. "Western doctors see it as something to be destroyed, but it can also tell us about how we live our lives and what we can do differently."
Low Dog today is showing other healers what they can do differently--both by her example and by serving on the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy.
--By Jeffrey Kluger