Donald Warne, MD, MPH
As a physician and traditional medicine person, Donald Warne, MD, MPH, synthesizes his medical training with his cultural knowledge as a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe to deepen both the intelligence and effectiveness of his work in health policy development. He brings wisdom to science and science to culture. He understands rituals of healing as well as the rigors of medical discipline and he respects ancient Native knowledge as well as cutting edge science. He honors the past and knows that the future is what counts. This ability to integrate complex systems—some rooted in spiritual traditional teachings and others in formal medical education and practice—make Dr. Warne a visionary.
As an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, he grew up with the wise counsel and inspiration of numerous relatives who are Lakota medicine men and spiritual leaders, and a mother who is a professor of nursing. These two realms, often suspect of one another, were integrated into his experience as a young man. As a medical practitioner and a spiritual healer, he incorporates into his work the value of both, enhancing each with a greater vision of possibility.
In his medical career, Donald Warne’s accomplishments are comprehensive. He graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine, is a Diplomate of both the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Medical Acupuncture and received his Master of Public Health degree from Harvard University. In addition, Dr. Warne completed one-year fellowships in Alternative Medicine from the Arizona Centers for Health and Medicine and Minority Health Policy from Harvard Medical School. He has additional training in medical acupuncture from the UCLA School of Medicine, is a Certified Diabetes Educator, and has studied classical homeopathy and botanical medicine.
Donald has worked with the National Institutes of Health to study diabetes intervention in American Indian populations. To this work, he brought his medical, cultural and spiritual experience.
“With diabetes there are no simple solutions, and there are multiple levels at which to work,” says Donald Warne. “There is primary prevention to prevent diabetes from occurring in the first place. Secondary prevention to prevent complications in people who already have the disease. And tertiary prevention to prevent death and/or organ failure in people who already have complications. It’s a daunting task requiring a medical perspective, a public health perspective, a business perspective, an educational perspective, a political perspective, a cultural perspective and a spiritual perspective.”
In the southwest, his work with diabetes prevention links the loss of American Indian agrarian lifestyle, including the loss of the river which was the very heart of a sustainable culture, to the loss of self-identity, self-esteem, self-sufficiency and self-care.
“The old cultures had ceremonies for the harvest, ceremonies to mark the change of season, ceremonies for planting, and ceremonies for rainfall,” he says. “Much of the traditional religion and spiritual practice was based on the river. If you take away the river, you take away a huge portion of the culture.”
The reasons behind the reasons, for diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, are part of his comprehensive perspective. And it is a perspective that infuses all his thinking with layers of insight and connection. It is a way of seeing things that is a direct result of his traditional upbringing and training.
“If we just focus on the physical realm, we will miss most of the issues that people have today,” says Donald Warne. “The most effective way to get to the root of health issues is to incorporate traditional philosophies, which are much more holistic and balanced and which formally address the emotional, mental and spiritual realms in terms of their impact on overall health.”
There is much more to being a healer than merely being a physician focusing on disease processes. Through his insight and experience in his traditional Lakota culture, Donald Warne infuses his formal medical education and practice with a broad and expansive vision of the connections between cultural, societal, community and personal health. He has witnessed first-hand the devastating health effects that occur when this connection is broken.
Donald Warne’s work with implementing culturally relevant medical programs is a model of compassionate and comprehensive healthcare planning that is applicable to many diverse circumstances and situations. His knowledge, passion and dedication to the health and well-being of Native communities offers a lesson in integrative and holistic medicine that attends to the spiritual, emotional and psychological aspects of health as tenderly and as thoroughly as it does to physical well-being.
"The medicine wheel – the traditional Lakota symbol for medicine, health and balance – is essentially a circle with a cross in the middle. To the east is the spiritual realm. To the north is the mental realm, to the west physical, and to the south emotional. To be healthy, you must be in balance in all four directions, essentially living in the center of the circle."
Donald Warne, MD, MPH, is an adjunct clinical professor at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law where he teaches American Indian Health Policy and is assisting in the creation of an American Indian Policy Center. He received his Medical Degree from Stanford University in 1995 and his Master of Public Health from Harvard University with a focus on health policy in 2002. He is a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), and a Diplomat of both the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Medical Acupuncture. He has completed fellowships in Alternative Medicine from the Arizona Center for Health and Medicine and in Minority Health Policy from Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Warne is the Senior Policy Advisor for the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board. He is also the Director of the Office of Native Health for Sanford Health System. He is a former member of the Advisory Council on Indian Health Care in the State of Arizona and former Chair of the Traditional Cultural Advocacy Committee at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. He was awarded the 1997 Walter Brazie, MD Award as Arizona’s Outstanding Family Practice Resident from Arizona Academy of Family Physicians; the Dr. Fang Ching Sun Memorial Award for Commitment to Underserved Communities from Harvard School of Public Health; and the Phoenix Area Impact Award from the National Indian Health Board.
For articles by Donald Warne please visit:
Diabetes in American Indians
Traditional Perspectives on Child and Family Health