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Dr. Angela M. Erdrich

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1965

Medical School

Dartmouth Medical School



Career Path

Pediatric medicine
Dr. Angela M. Erdrich


I wanted to become a doctor because I knew I was interested in public service and I felt like I needed to get some very specific training. I knew that with my personality I was going to be more effective and comfortable in a job that helps people individually.


As a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa (Ojibwe) from Wahpeton, North Dakota, Angela M. Erdrich, M.D., brings her interest in American Indian art, history, and health care systems to her practice of pediatric medicine. After a number of years teaching art and English she trained as a physician to help the underserved. She continues to use her previous education in her medicine—as she says, "I enjoy the combination of art and medicine."

Angela Erdrich earned her undergraduate degree in visual studies from Dartmouth College in 1994, and studied art history and foreign languages in Florence, Italy, and Mainz, West Germany. Before earning her medical degree at Dartmouth, she worked as assistant to the director of the Native American Preparatory School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she also taught art and English to junior high students, helping the students plan and execute a mural of American Indian designs in the city of Las Cruces.

Dr. Erdrich's medical experience includes a residency at the Seattle, Washington, Indian Health Board from 1994 to 1997, and work as a pediatrician from 1997 to 2000 at the Oneida, Wisconsin, Community Health Center with patients who are members of the Oneida Nation. She was also a pediatrician with the Chinle, Arizona, Comprehensive Health Care Facility from 2000 to 2002. At both American Indian health care facilities, she took on special projects to develop, design, and create photographs for a "Healthy Kids" patient education calendar and other patient education materials.

For her work at Chinle, Dr. Erdrich received a special recognition award for developing the community health promotion materials, and an "On-the-Spot" award for superior task achievement in caring for medically fragile children. In June 2002 she returned to her ancestral home, and currently works part time as a pediatrician at the Burdick Memorial Health Care Facility in Belcourt, North Dakota, on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation.

Question and Answer

Q2. What was my biggest obstacle?

I was fairly unaware of the day-to-day realities of being a doctor. I hadn't known anyone who had been in the medical field at all, so I felt that I was a little out of place.

Q3. How do I make a difference?

I am a patient advocate and I try to keep track of the small details of my patients' medical needs. Sometimes patients need a doctor to go to bat for them to help them coordinate their complex medical needs. I like to sort out the needs of the most complicated patients and get them the services they need.

Q4. Who was my mentor?

My mentors have included some of my attending physicians from residency (Dr. David Grossman, Dr. Richard Shugerman, Dr. Peter Talbot). I have learned so much from my pediatric colleagues as well: My husband, Dr. Sandeep Patel—fight for your patient's rights and never compromise on patient care, navigate the complex medical system on behalf of the patient. Dr. Diane Fenster—compassion, paying attention to every detail. Dr. Elsa Lee—follow-through for patients. Many of my colleagues have not only been smart and hard-working doctors but they have been really wonderful people to work with, which makes the medical environment so fun and rewarding.

Q5. How has my career evolved over time?

I like working for Native American people and I want to be of service to an underserved population. I have done so on the Oneida Reservation in Wisconsin, the Navajo reservation in Chinle, Arizona and now on my home reservation, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. In order to help an under-served population, I live in a very cold rural environment far away from family (but close enough to drive to them). I doubt I would be happy in a different medical environment, so it is worth the sub-zero temperatures.

Over the years I have struggled with finding a method for effecting change without scaring people off or inadvertently offending them with a suggestion for improvement. This fine balance is the key to being an effective leader. I have noticed that sometimes it takes a jerk to get something done—but I am not comfortable with the unilateral approach and I like to get along with others at work. So I find that I am easing into things these days and staying undercover until the right moment hits to try to insert my ideas into the mix. In other words, I have learned to keep my mouth shut, but my spirit has not been broken! There are very few pediatricians in North Dakota (less than fifty I believe, including sub-specialists). I am proud to offer pediatric care to this small reservation town where my mother grew up. There are children with rare disorders here and on the other reservations where we have worked and it is very exciting to be able to offer them pediatric care.

Over the years I have come to realize that I like taking care of very complex medical conditions, and that the best thing I can do for patients is to be their advocate and to follow them very closely in the office and by phone. I will probably make most of my impact on Indian health with individual families.

In an effort to make a bigger impact, however, I like to do creative projects that involve art and medicine. For the past five years I have been taking pictures of children to promote health and safety issues. I have made posters and have produced a widely distributed calendar featuring Native American families (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003). I hope to continue these projects my entire career because they sustain me in a creative sense and because they promote community pride. The community involvement also makes my job even more exciting.