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Dr. Laurie A. McLemore

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1955

Medical School

University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine



Career Path

General medicine: Family
Dr. Laurie A. McLemore


I aspired to be a physician at the age of 16. At 18 I was told that a teenage mother cannot achieve such goals. The premedical advisor told me that after I had graduated as valedictorian from Haskell Indian Junior College, and graduated with honors in Biology from the University of Kansas, that my MCAT scores were low and I should try to get them up before applying to medical school. Because I was thirty years old at that time, I didn't want to wait another year. That year I was accepted by five medical schools, and eventually had my choice of two medical school scholarships. I chose the University of Missouri-Columbia.


As a teenage mother, Laurie McLemore was told she would not be able to become a physician. Despite the lack of encouragement she received from academic advisors, and the challenges of raising a family whilst building a career, she went on to complete premedical training with honors and was offered a scholarship to attend medical school.

Laurie McLemore attended the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she recalls being ignored by fellow medical students. One day, for example, when she sat down for lunch with some students, they all got up and went to another table. She was a grandmother by graduation. While in residency she pursued opportunities in the community, giving talks on American Indian health issues. As a senior resident she received the Mead Johnson Award, one of only fourteen given annually to outstanding family practice residents.

In the 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recognized two American Indians with AIDS. At that time Dr. McLemore was the first to make a culturally based national directory of resources for American Indians with AIDS. She organized a number of AIDS awareness events with little or no funding, and managed to reach college-age American Indian students from a hundred different tribes and from thirty-three states. Some were from remote areas in Alaska, others from the floor of the Grand Canyon. In 2002, the CDC reported that, as of June 1998, there were 1,848 American Indians with AIDS.

As of 2002, she was working at W. W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, on her final year of a five-year service payback with the Indian Health Service. Dr. McLemore is committed to her promise to serve her people.

Dr. McLemore has served on the AIDS education advisory board for the Association of American Indian Physicians. She also has been on the board of Becoming an Outdoor Woman and the Tulsa Speech and Hearing Board, which serves the deaf community. She believes, in her words, "that each American Indian person can make a huge impact on public health."

Question and Answer

What was your biggest obstacle?

In medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia I recall being ignored by fellow medical students. One day for lunch I joined fellow students, and they all got up and went to another table. I was a grandmother by graduation and chose not to attend graduation with them. There continued to be barriers in residency from fellow residents.

How do you make a difference?

Life is full of defining moments when you realize what something means to you and it helps put things into perspective. I had done multiple rotations at this Indian hospital both as a medical student and as a resident, and currently work in the walk-in clinic. One particular patient came in with three sons, and the patient told me that I had delivered the youngest. The boy was introduced—he was seven years old and shy. I shook his hand, and the mother's problems were addressed. On their way out of the office, the little boy suddenly hugged my legs. At that moment I knew that even in a 'glass' world, my journey took me home. Why is this story important? Because there are approximately 1.6 million American Indians in the United States served by about two hundred physicians in any field of medicine, and those that are full-blooded are an endangered species because with each generation there are fewer of them.