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Release: March 23, 2000

New York Times medical reporter to speak at UI March 29, April 3

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Lawrence K. Altman, M.D., longtime medical reporter for The New York Times, will visit the University of Iowa as an Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor March 28-April 5. He will deliver two free public lectures at the Iowa Memorial Union and will meet with UI doctors, nurses, health science professionals, journalism professors and students, and members of the local media.

His first lecture, "Who Goes First? The Story of Self-Experimentation in Medicine," will be Wednesday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Richey/Triangle Ballroom at the IMU. Altman, who published a book of the same title in 1987, will explore the issue of who is selected as the first human volunteer in an experiment. The tradition of medicine -- hardly known to the profession and public--is that the doctor (chief investigator) goes first.

His second presentation, "New and Emerging Diseases," will be Monday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Richey/Triangle Ballroom at the IMU. This lecture will examine how an overconfident medical profession predicted the end of infectious diseases, lulling society into a false sense of security about the return of old diseases and the emergence of new ones, such as AIDS and Ebola.

While at the UI, Altman plans to attend daily medical rounds at The UI Hospitals and Clinics and at the Veterans' Administration Medical Center. He is scheduled to give presentations and hold informal discussions with faculty members from the Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health on topics ranging from the myth of peer review to press coverage of medical news.

Altman is one of the few medical doctors working as a full-time daily newspaper reporter. He has been a member of The New York Times staff since 1969, where, in addition to reporting, he writes the "Doctor's World" column in Science Times.

Altman has reported extensively on the health of political figures, including President Reagan, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bill Bradley. During his primary campaign, the only interview Bradley gave on his heart condition was to Altman. Many observers have credited Altman's coverage for having made candidates' personal health disclosures almost routine now."

He has reported on health conditions and threats worldwide, traveling to India in 1975 to write about the eradication of smallpox, and to Sweden in the 1970s for one of the earliest journalistic ventures in covering a foreign health care system. Altman wrote perhaps the first national news story about AIDS in 1981, before the disease even had a name, and has remained a leader in covering the progress of the disease. In 1985, he won a George Polk Award for his series on AIDS in Africa.

In 1982, 1983 and 1995, Altman won the Howard W. Blakeslee Award of the American Heart Association. He is the only science writer to win the award in two successive years.

Altman earned his B.A. in government from Harvard University and his M.D. from Tufts University. His medical internship was at Mt. Zion Hospital, San Francisco, in 1962 and 1963, after which he served for three years with the U.S. Public Health Service's Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta as editor of its "Morbidity Weekly Report," a journal dealing with reported cases of communicable diseases in the world.

He then helped set up a measles immunization program for eight West African countries, which later was merged with the World Health Organization's program that eradicated smallpox from the world. Altman then became chief of the U.S. Public Health Service's Division of Epidemiology and Immunization in Washington, D.C.

From 1966 to 1968, Dr. Altman was a resident in internal medicine at the University of Washington Affiliated Hospitals in Seattle, and later became a senior fellow there in medical genetics.

Altman, who holds medical licenses in the states of Washington, California, and New York, is a clinical associate professor at the New York University Medical School. He is a Master of the American College of Physicians, the American College of Epidemiology and the New York Academy of Medicine, and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Altman's visit to the UI is supported by the Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professorships Program, which brings outstanding scholars to the UI campus for residencies ranging from a few days to an entire academic year. A native of Vinton, Iowa, Beam willed her farm to the UI in 1977. Her only university connection was a relative who graduated from the College of Medicine. Proceeds from the sale of the farm were used to establish the visiting professorships program in her name. Since 1977, hundreds of eminent scholars and scientists have visited the UI campus to give public lectures and to meet with students and faculty.