South-Paul fights for healthcare for underserved

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Dr. Jeanette South-Paul’s unfailing fiery passion and undying commitment to making sure that the medical needs of the underserved are met, made her the perfect candidate for the Gertrude Labowitz Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Dr. South-Paul was chosen for the award because she has been a consistent voice for the underserved—including the disabled community—ensuring that the message of full inclusion, trust and respect are heard. This has directly affected and enhanced the quality of life for all people, especially those who are underserved,” said Melva Ledbetter, Chief Professional Officer of the United Cerebral Palsy Community Living and Support Services.

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DR. JEANETTE SOUTH-PAUL with UCP/CLASS Board Members Thomas Motley and Dr. Grady Roberts Jr.

The not-for-profit organization was founded in 1951 with a mission of working toward a community where every person belongs. Dr. South-Paul was presented with her award at the group’s 19th annual Community Heroes Awards Dinner on Oct. 19.

“It’s overwhelming to receive this award. I don’t see myself as an awardee. I’ve been blessed with some skills and talents. I’m excited about it and I’m humbled by it,” said Dr. South-Paul who hails from Philadelphia but resides in Pittsburgh where she serves as the Andrew W. Mathieson Professor and Chair, Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is the first African-American and the first woman to hold the post and is among the small number of Black chairs of medical schools in the nation.

“I believe that UCP/­CLASS is a special organization,” said Dr. South-Paul of the initiative that awarded her its annual life time achievement award. “They have been committed to a group in our community that needs help. When our community is strong, we are all strong. The government can’t do it all. UCP/CLASS and other organizations like it help to put a face on the underserved in the community.”

That is something Dr. South-Paul believes wholeheartedly in. She joined the University of Pittsburgh family in July 2001 as the department chair after serving for 22 years as a family physician in the U.S. Army. Dr. South-Paul served as the Chair of the Department of Family Medicine in the Uniformed Services University of the Health Services for six years prior to her military retirement. She was appointed the Andrew W. Mathieson University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Professor of Family Medicine in April of 2005.

In addition, she maintains an active family medicine practice, which includes maternity care, at the UPMC Matilda Theiss Clinic.

“Receiving an award is not something I strive for. Awards are not the motivator for why I do the things I do. I do these things to focus on the underserved who really want health care,” Dr. South-Paul continued. “The value of this type of award is (getting the chance to) tell people where we need to go; that there are many people who need health care.”

That innate need to provide good heath care to people is one of the reasons she worked hard to become a doctor.

“I was raised with parents who ran a rescue mission in Philly and I saw how needy people were and I thought I could serve their needs,” she recalls. “I saw many medical and social needs and I realized that you couldn’t handle the medical needs without handling the social needs. I wanted to address both.”

Her numerous hours of research in such vital areas as social, biological and behavioral factors, which were associated with premenstrual syndrome; exercise and aerobic capacity during pregnancy throughout pregnancy; infant nutrition; and exercise-dependent physiologic functions in obesity.

“You have to take charge of your own health as a woman because you are so busy taking care of everyone else,” Dr. South-Paul said. “The major thing is that people need a place where they feel at home and ask questions of people who know them. These days, people are going to health clinics and emergency rooms for care but they need a place to call their medical home.”

When Dr. South-Paul isn’t administering medicine or advice to her patients, she enjoys swimming, exercising and spending time with her two sons. She is also an active member of Browns Hill Bible Chapel in Squirrel Hill.

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