Link: University of Iowa

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Alumni Interview

Marvin Piburn, M.D.

Marvin Piburn, M.D.

Recipient of 2004 Distinguished Alumni Award for Service

"I enjoyed my missions because I could just practice medicine."

One glance at Marvin Piburn’s CV— his mission work in the United States and abroad, rotations and residencies to enhance his surgical skills, and service to the U.S. Armed Forces—and it’s clear that caring for people in need has been his life’s work.

It began in 1942, when he was assigned as a pharmacists’ mate in the U.S. Navy. He later enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a surgeon during the Korean War.

In 1953, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries named Piburn a medical missionary physician and surgeon at Nyadiri Mission in southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He and his wife, Carolyn, moved their three young children there, and a fourth would be born there as they carried out the work that would occupy them for nearly 30 years.

The mission consisted of a 30 x 60 foot hospital surrounded by primitive cottages. A diesel generator provided electricity for three hours in the evening. Relatives cooked food over open fires and delivered it to loved ones in the hospital. Meanwhile, Piburn delivered care ranging from obstetrics to eye surgery.

" I enjoyed it because I could just practice medicine," Piburn said. "You could work without all the problems we have here with health care costs."

The years in Rhodesia saw a few furloughs to the United States, during which he learned new skills and Carolyn became a nurse anesthetist. Piburn spent another furlough in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, caring for those ravaged by war.

Their work at Nyadiri ended in 1982, and the family moved back to the United States. In 1983, they joined United Methodist Urban Ministry to open a free clinic in Witchita, Kan., and expand one established in Hutchinson, Kan. The Wichita clinic, now known as the GraceMed Health Clinic, still operates today.

In 1992, the Piburns retired. Sadly, Carolyn died in January 2003. Marvin Piburn remains active in his church, attends clinical meetings at Wichita hospitals and spends time with his grandchildren.

Looking back, Piburn noted that his UI training helped him achieve his dream of becoming a medical missionary. "It gave me the confidence I needed to do almost anything overseas," Piburn said. "I don’t think I’d change anything."


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