Dr. Pearl Tang
Pearl Tang moved to Arizona after she married Thomas Tang in 1947. The two met in China. She had received her medical degree in Shanghai in 1945 and then completed her residency in Quebec City, Canada. After moving to Phoenix, Pearl met the large Tang family and gradually adjusted to American life.
Pearl Tang wanted to practice medicine in Arizona, but she was not allowed to sit for the licensing exam because she had received her medical degree outside of the U.S. While her husband pursued a law degree at the U of A, Pearl earned a MS in microbiology there. The couple returned to Phoenix in 1950 and the U.S. Public Health Service recruited Pearl to study diarrhea diseases in Arizona.
Tom Tang a new lawyer and a veteran decided to argue before the Medical Licensure Board that Pearl should be allowed to take the licensing exam. The board changed it’s position and she passed the licensing exam, becoming the first Asian American woman physician in Arizona. Pearl Tang began a career in public health that would have a huge impact on the health of Arizona children and mothers. She accepted a position at a hospital on the San Carlos Indian Reservation and then joined Maricopa County Public Health, setting up immunization programs and later prenatal programs. She became chief of the Maricopa County Public Health in 1960.
Dr. Tang and her public health nurses visited migrant camps and she worked to cut the incredibly high rate of infant mortality by organizing public health programs around the migrant families.
Dr. Tang realized early in her time in Maricopa County that basic health care and improved sanitation practices were needed to improve the situation for infants. Arizona’s high rate of infant death was partly due to diarrhea. This was exaggerated by mothers not being able to nurse infants and poor sources of water. Dr. Tang found that mothers made formula with whatever water they had, and some very unsanitary. She taught then to boil water for formula so they could feed their babies safely. Dr. Tang also used statistics to identify areas with more premature births and then established prenatal care in those areas - Gila Bend, Buckeye, Gilbert, Chandler and Queen Creek.
Dr. Tang’s created a Maternity Care van which traveled to serve women who did not have transportation to reach clinics. At first, the public health nurses wanted to call it a Family Planning van, but they found that the name led to some women’s husbands being wary and not wanting their wives to go there, so it was called the Maternity Van.
Public Health programs initiated by Dr. Pearl Tang continue to this day. Her vision and work was remarkable.
Public Health professionals lauded her work and impact when she passed. Will Humble, Director of Arizona Public Health Association said, “A lot of people living today who are between the ages of 45 and 65 are alive as a direct result of hDr. Pearl Tang’s work to reduce infant mortality. She was one of the public health people that you can measure your career against. She was just so tenacious.”