Dr Rainer Gruessner was appointed chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in 2007. It is a role that kept him extraordinarily busy, but he still manages to find time to pursue those things that interest him outside of medicine.
One of the things that interest Gruessner is American Indian culture and art. As a resident of Tucson, Arizona, there is much that Dr. Gruessner can learn about in his own back yard. Indigenous people have lived in present-day Arizona for thousands of years, and more than one fourth of the State’s area is reservation land.
Among the many Native American cultures indigenous to Arizona is the Navajo Nation, which, as Dr Rainer Gruessner knows, has the largest Native American reservation in the United States. Navajo culture and traditions were centered on family life. Navajo culture has always been centered on ceremonies and rituals. Some of their chants may last as long as nine days and require dozens of helpers.
It was of particular interest to Gruessner that the most important Navajo ceremonies are for treatment of ills, both mental and physical. The Navajo culture used sand painting as a spiritual way to heal the sick. When they sand painted, they made the painting in a smooth bed of sand, which was only temporary. Crushed yellow ochre, red sandstone, gypsum, and charcoal were used to create the images during their chants. The chants were for the Earth people and the holy people to come back into harmony, which provides them protection and healing.
Dr Rainer Gruessner has taken great pride in the fact that his department has trained a total of 7 Native Americans to become surgeons. All of them have gone back to the reservations and practice surgery there at the major hospitals. His is the residency program that has trained the most Native Americans in the last 10 years.