“I've been lucky. I was inspired to go into medicine and then later in life I found my second calling when I visited China and saw the tremendous problem of iodine deficiency there.”
“WORLDWIDE CRUSADER AGAINST MENTAL RETARDATION...”
In a long and illustrious life in medicine, Constance Pittman has managed to build two separate careers-one as a physician and researcher, and later as a worldwide advocate in the fight against iodine deficiency disease (IDD) in under-served countries.
After a medical career at the University of Alabama in which she excelled as an educator and clinician specializing in diseases of the thyroid, Pittman joined Kiwanis International's Worldwide Service Project whose goal is the elimination of iodine deficiency worldwide. Working with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, the Kiwanis project has raised funds to support salt iodization, testing and monitoring, and community outreach and education in the fight against IDD, the world's most prevalent, preventable cause of mental retardation.
Born in China (she became a US citizen in 1958), she had her first taste of medicine working in a makeshift hospital operating room in 1945 along the famed Burma Road. Shortly thereafter and with World War II ending, she came with her parents to the United States, attended Wellesley College and, later, graduated from Harvard Medical School.
She came to the University of Alabama in 1961 as an Instructor in Medicine and has remained there since as a physician, researcher in endocrinology and, most recently, as a worldwide representative in the fight against iodine deficiency.
Specializing in thyroid illness led to her awareness of the role iodine deficiency still plays in serious, long-term health problems for many residents in the world's less prosperous countries, particularly children.
"I was in the United States for 27 years before I was able to return to China," she remarked. "I went back and saw the affect of iodine deficiency, the goiter that is the indicator of the illness and the metal retardation that comes with it, and realized there was a tremendous problem."
In 1990, less than 20 percent of people at risk for IDD had access to iodized salt-- the easiest, most common method of reducing iodine deficiency. Now more than 90 percent of the population in 27 developing countries uses iodized salt.
Nominated as a Local Legend of Medicine by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL-6), Constance Pittman is the recipient of numerous awards including the Andrew Gerow Hodges Service Award (2005) from the Kiwanis Club for "her tireless work with the Iodine Deficiency Disorder world service project."
She received the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award and the Best Teaching Clinical Professor Award from the University of Alabama (both in 1991), a citation in The Best Doctors in America in 1992, and the Alabama Medical Association 50-year Service Award in 2005.
She is widely published with numerous full-length articles and abstracts, and has served as editor for ICCIDD publications and websites.
"I started this project with Kiwanis International to help save children from iodine deficiency, but now I realize that it's a project that needs constant support," she said. "My next project is to build an endowment for worldwide nutrition that will carry this work on."
Begins medical career as Instructor in Medicine, University of Alabama, Birmingham
Appointed Professor of Medicine, University of Alabama; Professor Emerita of Medicine (1995)
Appointed Chief, Thyroid Research Laboratory, Veterans Administration Medical Center, Washington, D.C
Appointed Director, Endocrine Training Program, University of Alabama School of Medicine
Appointed to Board of Directors, International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disease (ICCIDD)
Receives the Andrew Gerow Hodges Service Award (Given by the Kiwanis Club for Work in Eradicating Iodine Deficiency Disease)
Harvard Medical School