POUGHKEEPSIE, NY-Noted physician and humanitarian, Dr. Matthew C. Spitzer, the president of Doctors Without Borders USA, will deliver the address at the 145th Vassar College commencement exercises on Sunday, May 24, 2009, at 10:00am, at the college's outdoor amphitheater.
An international medical humanitarian organization created in 1971 by French doctors and journalists, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. Today it continues to provide aid in nearly 60 countries to people threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care, or natural disasters. MSF also speaks out to bring attention to neglected crises, to challenge inadequacies or abuse of the humanitarian aid system, and to advocate for improved medical treatments and protocols.
Matthew Spitzer is a family physician based in San Francisco, who began working with MSF in 1999, inspired by a stint at the Refugee Medical Clinic during his family practice residency at San Francisco General Hospital. His first field work was a primary care project that established clinical services and training of township and village doctors in Nangqian, Qinghai Province, China. This remote rural area-populated by an ethnic minority of Khampa Tibetans-suffered severe frost and food shortages in 1995 and 1997, as well as an almost complete collapse of basic health care.
Vassar College president Catharine Hill said, "As a leader of one of the world's most honored and impressive humanitarian organizations, Dr. Spitzer will be in a position to challenge and inspire the members of the Class of 2009. I look forward to hearing his message and celebrating the day with the class and their friends and families."
In 2001 Dr. Spitzer continued his work with MSF, reviewing the potential medical needs of detained asylum-seekers in the U.S. Shortly after the Sierra Leone elections in 2002, he was sent there as Field Coordinator. He embarked on his third oversees mission with MSF in 2007, serving as Emergency Field Coordinator for an urgent response team in Kompong Cham, Cambodia, where a dengue epidemic had erupted.
Dr. Spitzer worked over 10 years at the St. Anthony Free Medical Clinic, which provides medical care and support to a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation work program in Petaluma, CA. This spring he left the clinic and began work at San Quentin State Prison, in the trauma/treatment area and outpatient housing unit. He also teaches a problem-based learning curriculum in the Joint Medical Program of University of California, San Francisco / University of California, Berkeley.
A graduate of Yale with distinction in philosophy, Dr. Spitzer earned his medical degree from Cornell University Medical College. His training also includes diplomas in tropical medicine and hygiene from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and in medical acupuncture from the UCLA/Helms Medical Institute.
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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.