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Dr. Melvina L. McCabe

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1951

Medical School

University of New Mexico School of Medicine


New Mexico

Career Path

Internal medicine: Geriatrics
General medicine: Family
Education: Teaching
Dr. Melvina L. McCabe


This is a very interesting question for me. When I was formulating my direction in life, at that time, I had no role models in medicine and no mentor. My earliest recollection of my interest came in middle school, when I declared that I wanted to become a doctor. In all sincerity I do not know where this came from. At times, I think that perhaps there is a predestined path for us to take that is identified for us by the Creator.


Melvina McCabe, M.D., brings a spiritual and cultural perspective to her care of the elderly. As director of geriatrics in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, she is an advocate for the underserved. "At times," she says, "I think that perhaps there is a predestined path for us to take that is identified for us by the Creator."

Even as a child, Melvina McCabe knew she would some day be a physician. A Navajo elder, Christine Whipple, who later became her grandmother-in-law, served as her role model. At the turn of the century Whipple left the Navajo reservation in New Mexico to train as a nurse and work in a hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan from 1910 to 1919. She returned home to the reservation and worked as a nurse among the Navajo, serving as a midwife and physician's assistant, performing minor surgery and setting broken bones. "Her guiding light," observes Dr. McCabe, "provided direction for many lives not only within the family, but also within the community."

After completing her undergraduate work at the University of New Mexico in 1980, McCabe began her own training for a life in medicine. She graduated from the medical school at the university in 1984. As well as her clinical practice, Dr. McCabe has spent most of the past decade on the faculty of the University of New Mexico, serving on a number of key committees on primary care and other professional boards. She is a member of the Association of American Indian Physicians, where she was president from 2000 to 2001, and she a grant reviewer for the Alzheimer's Association. Dr. McCabe is also a member of the University of New Mexico Mosaic Committee to advise on the recruitment and retention of under-represented students, the Minority Affairs Consortium of the American Medical Association, and the National Institutes of Health National Advisory Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities. She is a member of the American Medical Association, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

In 1999, Dr. McCabe was named Physician of the Year by the Association of American Indian Physicians, and in 2002 she received the Stoklos Visiting Professorship Award for her promotion of integrated medicine (orthodox and Navajo) from the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center.

Question and Answer

Who was my mentor?

I have not had a mentor, even to this day. My role model was my grandmother-in-law, Christine Whipple. She was a remarkable woman who was trained and initially worked as a nurse between 1910 and 1919, at a hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The fact that an American Indian woman left the reservation for training was unprecedented at that time. In 1919, she returned to the Navajo reservation and continued to work as a nurse. Her duties as a nurse included delivering babies, taking and reading X-rays, minor surgery, and fracture casting. During this time, she also raised a family of four as a single parent, helped raise her grandchildren, and assisted in the care of the great-grandchildren, including my children. She was always fair compassionate, had impeccable morals and values, had a positive outlook at all times, and was very giving. She never drove a car, but taught others how to drive. She was "grangin" [grandmother] to us. Her guiding light provided direction for many lives, not only within the family but also within the community.

How has my career evolved over time?

If one looks at the activities of my career, the focus has and always will be with American Indian and Alaska Native people. I have always enjoyed research, education, and clinical care. The academic position that I now hold has provided the fulfillment of these enjoyments.