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Profiles

Maureen McCue, College of Public Health/International Programs

  Maureen McCue
 
Maureen McCue, MD, adjunct clinical professor in the UI College of Public Health and adjunct professor in UI International Programs. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.
   

For the past 20 years, Maureen McCue lived her childhood dream of becoming a teacher through her work as an adjunct clinical professor in The University of Iowa’s College of Public Health and as an adjunct professor in UI International Programs. Although the Milwaukee native always has had a passion for teaching, many of her personal and academic interests have focused on global health. She has traveled to many countries in an effort to understand, lend support, or respond in some way to the global health challenges facing the area.

Most recently, McCue created a class that eventually will travel to Haiti and work to repair the country after its devastating earthquake on Jan. 12. Throughout the semester, McCue will teach 11 students aspects of Haiti's history that help to explain the breadth of the current disaster, its impact on the health of Haitians and future of their country, responses by various aid agencies, and coordination and communication between outside agencies and those already in the country. If the situation in Haiti allows, the group will travel to Haiti for 10 days after finals in May.

McCue sat down with fyi to talk about her involvement with Physicians for Social Responsibility, her trek across the former Soviet Union in the name of peace, and the risks she encountered working in the health care field.

You are a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). Tell us about this organization, and how you got involved with it.

PSR is a national organization, an integral part of an international federation, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. It grew and evolved from the pioneering physicians initially involved in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, the anti–Vietnam War movement, the movement for national occupational health and safety standards, and the Medical Committee for Health Rights (MCHR). 
 
As an undergraduate I majored in Indian studies and was drawn to the philosophy and actions of Gandhi. As a medical student I was a member of MCHR. I helped set up one of the very first free clinics in the United States. Thus I was, and still am, drawn to the work of several of these groups, but I eventually focused on PSR. I’ve been a member since the early 1970s, almost since its inception. While so many social and political issues are vitally important to our health, I am drawn most to the importance of articulating the health benefits to be realized by preventing war. We bring a voice and a kind of authority that is not found in other groups working on the same issues.

You serve as coordinator of the Iowa chapter of PSR, and as a regional director to the national board of directors. What does your role entail?

Often it feels like herding cats, as most of our members are self-motivated and engaged in a number of activities on their own in their own region. I try hard to keep in touch with health activists across Iowa and the region to assess their concerns and activities; what’s working or not working regarding making the health connections; and addressing the costs between war or peace or cleaning up our environment or stabilizing our climate. It’s an important organization, and important work because we alone address many critically important issues through a health lens.

 

A few of my favorite things ...

Food: eggs and nuts

Drink: coffee

Weekday lunch spot: my office

Book: The Life of Pi

Movie: 9 to 5

TV show: 24

Web site: Physicians for Social Responsibility

   

Why has Haiti been such an important country for you to focus on in your career?

Haiti is our neighbor; Haiti has suffered inexcusably at the hands of various U.S. administrations over a long time. Haitians are wonderful examples of resilience and lively creativity. Haitians have much to teach us about challenges faced by people all around the world.

How will the students use the knowledge gained in this spring's course, Haiti, the Evolution of a Disaster?

That depends on the students’ professions. But all of the students are interested in global health. Water, food, climate, the environment—all these things are challenging a population that’s growing rapidly in cities around the world. We all have to think globally and act locally.

Why did you come to the University of Iowa? What’s the best thing about your job?

I'm a Midwesterner and I appreciate the values, friendliness, and generosity of Midwesterners. The best parts of my job are the support of colleagues, the creativity and positive energy of many of my students, and the flexibility I'm allowed while doing my job.

What is the most unexpected thing that has ever happened to you at work?

I was most humbled when colleagues offered to donate vacation time to me so I could participate for a month in the peace walk across the former Soviet Union during the years of Perestroika under Gorbachev. It was heartening to realize that they too were as concerned as I about the cold war—enough to give up some of their free time for such a unique global peace effort.

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? 

Risks faced in medicine were too many to count. There were some very scary emergencies, including cases of acute psychosis, heart attacks, and emergency deliveries that came into our small emergency room or appeared without warning in my small rural clinic in Southern Illinois, where I worked solo for five years. That part of the United States is as poor and underfunded as many parts of the third world. Despite, or because of, the dearth of medical facilities and providers, there were innumerable people with complex medical needs. The situation of serious poverty was further complicated by pervasive and blatant racism, sexism, and environmental pollution.

The biggest risk I’ve faced in life: driving into floodwaters with water moccasins around in early spring in Southern Illinois—it was all part of the frustration of living in a poor area with poor roadways that regularly flood. Floods and poisonous reptiles are as much a part of life in Southern Illinois as the poverty, racism, and sickness.

Finish this sentence: My colleagues would be surprised to know that I...

I tend to save time, resources, and my personal environment by minimizing my bathing frequency. It saves the stress on my skin, reduces the use of chemical products, the need for heating water, and the energy for pumping water from our well. The grey water is then left in the tub for a brief while so it can release its heat and moisture into the air. Finally, before opening the drain, some of it is used for plants.

On my day(s) off you'll most likely find me:

In front of my computer or in my garden—I love nothing better than exploring the limits of perma-culture and harvesting root vegetables in the middle of January and February. Carrots are especially sweet in February!

What was your first job?

I worked as a waitress, cook, and dishwasher in a Milwaukee neighborhood lunch counter as a 16-year-old. I believe it lasted for three to six months during a summer and after school. I fancied myself a teenage Patsy Cline!

If you were to take up a new hobby, what would it be? 

Planting all manner of trees everywhere. Trees are our lungs, trees help maintain a livable climate; trees provide homes for many species and the raw material of many products important to all of us. Trees make wonderful foods, and they make me calmer. 

Are you a sports fan?

I am a fan of the Special Olympics and local amateur leagues. I love the fact that there are many people out there willing to help people with disabilities experience the fun and excitement of many sports. I’d love to get into a local or work-based baseball or basketball team for the fun and exercise—but it’s too complicated time-wise.

by Ashton Shurson

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