Medicine Prof Combines Pursuit of Global Health With Photography

One of his photos is featured in the Arizona Health Sciences Library 'Travels in Medicine' photography exhibit.
April 18, 2012
Ron Pust, MD
Ron Pust, MD
“Cruising on the Casamance,” Senegal, 2011.
“Cruising on the Casamance,” Senegal, 2011.

A boat overflowing with people on the Casamance River in Senegal in West Africa last year caught the eye of Ron Pust, professor of family and community medicine at the University of Arizona.

Today, the photograph he took of that scene is on display thousands of miles away in the Arizona Health Sciences Library as part of an exhibit, "Travels in Medicine: Exploring the Global Health Community," that provides a glimpse into the lives and health of people in emerging nations. The photos were taken abroad by students, faculty and staff of the Arizona Health Sciences Center and depict the photographers' views of global medicine, ranging from clinical experiences to cultural influences on health.

When Pust took the photo, he and five UA medical students were traveling up the Casamance on their way to Guinea-Bissau to conduct a two-week assessment of the nutrition of mothers and their children at the request of a fledgling clinic begun by a local nongovernmental organization and to help link that clinic to the health care system of the government of Guinea-Bissau. Three other students followed up last month.

Pust is director of the Global Health Distinction Track in the UA College of Medicine. He also holds a joint appointment with the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. A family physician who is board-certified in public health and preventive medicine, he sees global health as an extension of the College of Medicine's service commitment to underserved people.

"I have always felt that our commitment to equity in health care must begin at home, here in Arizona," said Pust, who was faculty adviser and director of the College of Medicine's Commitment to Underserved People program from 1979 to 1995. "What is most important is not how far we go from home, but what we learn from the people we seek to serve along the way."

The exhibit, "Travels in Medicine: Exploring the Global Health Community," is presented by the Global Health Forum, a student-run organization at the College of Medicine, in conjunction with the Department of Family and Community Medicine and the Arizona Health Sciences Library.

The free exhibit is open to the public and may be viewed through Saturday in the Arizona Health Sciences Library's Java City area. Viewing time is 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. today and Thursday; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

In his 40-year career as a global health physician, Pust has combined curriculum development with teaching and field research and clinical practice.

A graduate of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Pust began as a physician with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1969, working for two years in Arizona's Navajo Area Indian Health Service, then two years in the field of smallpox and tuberculosis after Nigeria's civil war.

He and his family then spent six years – his most formative clinical experience, he says – at the 120-bed Enga Provincial Hospital in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, a joint venture of the Lutheran Church and the government of Enga Province.

It was there he came to believe that improving health must be a three-way partnership among host communities and governments, nongovernmental and faith-based organizations, and educators in the health professions.

So in 1979, he joined the UA Department of Family and Community Medicine, where he and colleagues in the Arizona Health Sciences Center began developing interdisciplinary education for health care professionals who plan to work in less-developed countries, seeking to promote efficient yet evidence-based ways of diagnosing and treating problems in underserved settings in the United States and abroad.

As director of medical student education in the UA Department of Family and Community Medicine from 1981 to 2009, he was principal investigator on more than $4 million in federal family medicine education grants. His research interests include field assessment of lung function, tuberculosis, leprosy and maternal/child nutrition.

For more information, contact the Arizona Health Sciences Library at 520-626-6125 or visit the website.