SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 16, 2007) – Ruth E. Berggren, M.D., a compassionate hero who for days cared for the poor, disenfranchised and uninsured of New Orleans in extreme conditions after Hurricane Katrina, has been appointed interim director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio School of Medicine.
Dr. Berggren assumes leadership of the center from Abraham Verghese, M.D., who led the program to national prominence since 2002. He recently was hired at Stanford University.
“Dr. Berggren has developed exciting plans for new growth in the center,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs. “She is a person of commitment, passion and great depth, and I am confident her leadership will ensure the continued success of this important center.”
Dr. Berggren is an associate professor of medicine and is board certified in both internal medicine and infectious diseases. She received her M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School, her medical training at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and infectious diseases subspecialty training at the University of Colorado.
The daughter of two public health physicians, Dr. Berggren grew up in rural Haiti. She has particular interest in clinical AIDS and viral hepatitis research, and in implementing HIV care in resource-poor settings. She began a program on hepatitis C treatment in HIV-infected patients in Dallas, and co-directed the Tulane University School of Medicine MARCH program to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Haiti.
While a faculty member at Tulane, she was the teaching physician assigned to the infectious disease ward of New Orleans’ Charity Hospital. She remained there for six days and nights caring for critically ill patients. This past May, she spoke about the experience to graduating School of Medicine students. (text of speech)
“I was never afraid of wind, water, fire, hunger or disease because I was just too busy trying to figure out what to do,” she said. “But moments of fear came when I was confronted by agitated, fearful people with guns. It happened twice on my ward.”
More than the elements, the real disaster in New Orleans could be traced to the inequality, lack of education and violence that tore the fabric of society, Dr. Berggren said. Physicians must not avert their gaze from the poor, disenfranchised and mentally ill, but must make choices that lead to social justice, she added.
The Health Science Center recruited Dr. Berggren in summer 2006 with her husband, Tyler J. Curiel, M.D., M.P.H., professor and director of the San Antonio Cancer Institute. She will assume her duties with the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics immediately.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields.