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Dr. Sara K. Dye

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1945

Medical School

Dartmouth Medical School


South Dakota

Career Path

Dr. Sara K. Dye


Pursuing her goal of reducing the number of diabetes-related amputations for American Indian populations, Dr. Sara Dye directed the first non-invasive vascular laboratory for the Indian Health Service.


I longed to get a college education and make life better for those around me.

I had many people help and encourage me during my childhood and high school years. That time of my life was very difficult because I came from a broken home and my mother died when I was thirteen... The first time I entertained the idea of becoming a doctor was in high school. The high school counselor told me that was impossible because of my grades. So, I became a radiologic technologist instead. I graduated with the highest grade on my radiologic technologist certification exam. This gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor.


Sara K. Dye, M.D., works to reduce the number of diabetes-related amputations among American Indians. In 1984, she developed the first non-invasive vascular laboratory for the Indian Health Services and was appointed director of the institute.

Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1945 and a member of the SacFox and Shawnee tribes, Sara Dye was told by her high school counselor that her grades were not high enough for her to go to medical school. Instead she studied to become an X-ray technician. After graduating with the highest grade on her radiologic technologist exam she regained the confidence she needed to train as a physician. In 1968, she began undergraduate studies at Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah, where she graduated with a 3.8 grade point average in pre-med. In 1971 she was accepted at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire, and she received her doctor of medicine degree in 1975. Unsure of a specialty, Dr. Dye first worked as a general medical officer at Claremore Indian Hospital in Oklahoma. Later, after a residency in general surgery at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center of New Hampshire in 1983, Dr. Dye became one of only sixteen American Indian surgeons practicing in the United States.

Dr. Dye was named staff surgeon at Carl Albert Indian Hospital in Ada, Oklahoma, in 1983. Throughout the next decade she served the hospital and community as clinical director, developer and director of the Non-Invasive Vascular Laboratory. During this time, Dr. Dye was also a member of the admission board of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. In 1994, she accepted the position of chief medical officer of the Aberdeen, South Dakota, Indian Health Service. Since that time she has also served as a consulting general surgeon for the Cheyenne River Indian Hospital. In 2003, she was appointed assistant professor of family medicine at the University of South Dakota School of Medicine.

A member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, Dr. Dye was named the Outstanding Indian Health Service Clinician for 1992, and in 1998 was named Physician Executive of the Year by the U.S. Public Health Service Physicians Professional Advisory Committee. In 2001, she was given the Friend of Nursing Award by the Indian Health Service National Council of Nurse Administrators.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

Getting into medical school. This was because it was political, I lacked financial support, and my family did not really comprehend what I was trying to achieve. I applied for every grant/scholarship that I could find. Because of a congenital problem with one of my eyes vocational rehabilitation paid for a portion of my tuition. Until I graduated from medical school I could not convince my father that I was NOT attending nurses' training!

How do I make a difference?

Overcoming obstacles to become a doctor has equipped me to encourage others who face similar barriers. I have had the opportunity to serve on medical school admission boards and advocate for minority students. Now as a physician executive I can model strong leadership skills for minority females.

Who was my mentor?

In childhood, my mentor was a friend's grandmother who took an interest in my spiritual well-being and saw to it that I was rooted in biblical principles.

In high school, my mentor was a biology teacher who understood the struggles I faced each day at home, but always encouraged me to push a little harder and to learn a little more.

During surgery residency, my mentor was a young surgery faculty member who taught me how to deal with "medical politics" without compromising my values.

How has my career evolved over time?

I started as a radiologic technologist then surgical technician, physician, and then general medical officer in the Indian Health Service. After that, I completed a general surgery residency and served as a staff surgeon and clinical director for ten years. For the past nine years I have served as physician executive in the Indian Health Service.