2022 Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Award is presented to Dr. Thuy D. Bui

Dr. Thuy Bui (photo credit: Joshua Franzos)

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation is pleased to announce that the 2022 Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Humanism in Healthcare Award will be presented to Dr. Thuy “Twee” D. Bui, a beloved professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, compassionate physician at UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), and enterprising leader in global health whose decades of action have improved the lives of underserved populations, refugees, and immigrants across two continents.

The Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Award for Humanism in Healthcare honors a woman who exemplifies humanism and has advanced, through her scholarship, advocacy, leadership or work, the well-being of underserved or vulnerable populations in the healthcare arena. Through this annual award, the Gold Foundation honors the spirit of Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz, who was inspired by her son to create change for children with disabilities. This honor was established in 2014 through a generous gift from Dr. Ronald Arky, Daniel D. Federman Professor of Medicine and Medical Education at the Harvard Medical School.

“Throughout her entire career, Dr. Bui has identified problems and dug into how to build compassionate solutions from the ground up – often literally! Her life story and deep personal bonds with people all over the world, combined with her genuine heart, collaborative spirit, and penchant for seeing possibilities where others see dead ends, make her a powerful exemplar of humanism,” said Dr. Richard I. Levin, President and CEO of the Gold Foundation. “We are privileged to be honoring Dr. Bui and hope that her example can inspire the next generation of humanistic leaders.”

Dr. Bui’s characteristic bent toward helping the often overlooked and underestimated is a testament to her moral character and poignant life story. Dr. Bui left her native Vietnam at the age of 11, becoming a refugee in search of order amid a changing world. Her family stayed at a refugee camp in Malaysia for nearly a year before making their arrival into the U.S. She has never forgotten where she came from or what it took. “Once a refugee always a refugee—I do feel like a nomad, but the U.S. is definitely home physically and in my heart and soul,” she said.

Dr. Bui is a Professor of Medicine and has been the Director of the Global Health Residency Track at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPSOM) and UPMC for over 15 years. Dr. Bui conjures a passion for global health in both residents and medical students, many of whom have now gone on to have their own medical careers in caring for the underserved. She is also an affiliated faculty member of the Center for Health Equity, Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Graduate School of Public Health, and the African Studies Program, University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Bui received her BS summa cum laude from Tulane University and her MD from Washington University in St. Louis. She entered the Peace Corps after residency and served as Head of the Medical Department of Kamuzu Central Hospital, Lilongwe, Malawi, for two years. The institution had no previous internal medicine physician, and Dr. Bui’s imaginative and earnest leadership proved transformative. After her time in the Peace Corps, she served as a physician for Primary Care Services, Inc. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She went on to join the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1999. Since then, Dr. Bui has committed herself to expanding programs for underserved people while also teaching students about the need to broaden services and the deep gratification that results from compassionate care.

Dr. Bui has won several awards for her teaching, mentoring, and commitment to social justice, including the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award. A Gold Humanism Honor Society member, Dr. Bui is also the Chapter Advisor at the GHHS Chapter at UPSOM. She served at the national level on the GHHS Advisory Council from 2012 to 2019. In addition, she is a member of the Academy of Master Educators, a membership organization at UPSOM, which places her in a very select group of faculty. The Academy is limited to 100 faculty out of nearly 2,500 full-time UPSOM faculty.

Previously, Dr. Bui served as the Medical Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Program for Health Care to Underserved Populations from 1999 to 2015, and until 2017, headed the Birmingham Free Clinic, which serves the un- or underinsured, immigrants, and other marginalized groups. Under her leadership, the free clinic quadrupled the number of patients seen each year. There was also tremendous growth in services, from 2½ half-days per week to 6 days a week, and the addition of new specialty services including cardiology, orthopedics, ophthalmology, pharmacy, physical therapy, and dermatology. She still sees patients on a weekly basis, and her aspiration is to organize much-needed dental services as part of the Birmingham Free Clinic.

Though Pittsburgh and the U.S. have become “home,” Dr. Bui still holds Malawi close to her heart. After her time in the Peace Corps, she regularly visited the country upon the start of any vacation or academic period that afforded her time away. She and her husband purchased a small lot of land and built a new school that provides education and internship experiences in the area of healthcare for post-secondary students. Dr. Bui also provides mentoring and research support, which fosters belief in the possibility of progress. She is passionate about inspiring graduates of the Malawi College of Medicine to stay connected to their country’s advancement in healthcare, and to see their native country as a place worthy of their efforts and dreams.

Dr. Bui too is invested in the future of Malawi’s women and girls. She nurtures close relationships with female chiefs and peer leaders in the country with the goal of providing educational opportunities, particularly in nursing, to girls and women. Dr. Bui sees education as a natural way of preventing child marriages and engendering economic advancement for women. With non-communicable diseases causing more suffering and deaths in low-income countries, Dr. Bui has led efforts to organize groups of diabetes peer supporters in individual villages to offer education on dietary plans, how to use glucometers, blood pressure machines, and the empowered ways in which patients can interact with their doctors.

In the nomination of Dr. Bui, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Vice Dean Dr. Ann Thompson described the words of one student: “Twee has embodied for me the concept of fostering belonging. She has an open-door policy and is truly brilliant in being able to see structural problems and find innovative, effective ways to address them. She has been an unwavering support for me; she guides young faculty and residents to be able to grow in our humanitarian mission. She is truly a shining star.”

Read the announcement about Dr. Bonita F. Stanton, who was honored posthumously with a special Hurwitz Award.

Read the announcement about our 2022 Honorable Mentions: Dr. Julie Aultman, Dr. Jennifer L. Haak, and Dr. Aliza S. Norwood.

Irene Zampetoulas, MPA

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