About Me – Program Director, Careers in Health Professions Dick Aronson ’69

“I come from a country that understands the need for hard work to overcome past destructiveness and to escape a threatened future. But, we have also learned that miracles happen with vision and spirit. The world needs that vision and spirit still, and all the more. We are all threatened by entrenched inequality and divisions. We all must prove ourselves equal to a better possibility.”

Nelson Mandela, Amherst College Honorary Degree Remarks, 2005

In his 35 years as a pediatrician, maternal and child health leader, teacher, mentor, and currently Health Professions Advisor and Assistant Dean of Students at Amherst College, Richard Allan Aronson, MD, MPH, Amherst College Class of 1969, has sought to put into practice the highest ideals of public health, public service, and medicine, and to stay faithful to the Amherst College ideal of Terras Irradient. The foundation of his career is a passion for social justice and lifelong effort to respond to Nelson Mandela’s call for action through public health and medicine, and to inspire young people to carry on the torch.

His career includes clinical pediatric practice as a developmental pediatrician, senior level leadership in three state public health departments, and since 2008, creating a program called Humane Worlds for Maternal and Child Health, teaching public health as visiting professor at Hampshire College, and since January 2011, his position at Amherst College. Dick’s current work is dedicated to informing, advising, and inspiring young people about health careers, and inspiring a new generation of students to create conditions under which all people have the full equal opportunity to thrive in body, mind, and spirit. Through his mentoring and advising, he places great value in supporting young people in their quest to discover paths to put their ideals into practice in the world of health and, public service.

Educational Journey and Early Initiatives

He graduated Cum Laude in 1969 with a major in Religion from Amherst College where he organized and led Amherst Amigos, a project involving community work in Mexican villages. He played a part in the start-up of the Amherst ABC Program, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009. He received his M. D. degree with Distinction in Research from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in 1974, during which time he obtained a one-year fellowship to work with malnourished children in Cali, Colombia. He received his Master of Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1988, with a major in Maternal and Child Health.

Leadership and Advocacy

In Vermont, he started up home visitation for young families, parent child centers, and a parent-to-parent support system for children with special health needs.  In Wisconsin, his leadership inspired uniquely innovative and effective state-local partnerships to address health disparities and injustice such as high infant mortality among African and Native Americans and youth violence. In Maine, he inspired and helped lead a public health approach to early childhood, child abuse prevention, and cultural and linguistic competence by fostering conditions for children, families, and communities to achieve optimal health in mind, body, and spirit. His leadership has made public health systems and policies more humane, family-centered, resiliency-based, and culturally competent. He strives to include the whole system, including youth, in all of his work.

Since 1993, Dick has been involved with Future Search (www.futuresearch.net), a planning tool for facilitating and uniting a wide diversity of people for discovering common ground and acting upon it. He has organized and facilitated numerous Future Search Conferences, and uses the principles of Future Search to inspire groups in dialogue and conversation that leads to action. One such conference, in January 2009, established the Amherst College Public Health Collaborative, with which Dick continues to work closely.

Dick’s focus has always been to foster conditions that unite people from all walks of life to discover common ground on issues of deep concern to children, families, communities, and society as a whole; and to inspire community-based action to make a shared vision become reality.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Dick’s work involves students every step of the way. Through teaching, mentoring, facilitating, and consulting, he synthesizes several bodies of research that will have significant impact on public health practice over the next 50 years. He seeks to inspire action to translate this research into humane MCH, public health, and medical practice and leadership. He integrates cultural and linguistic competence into public health and into healing as key strategy to end health disparities. He seeks to change the language of public health and medicine to better reflect the ideals of these noble professions. Hid work brings multiple stakeholders together to more fully understand complex public health challenges and take collaborative action to solve them. Most of all, he seeks to inspire a new generation of leaders in public health and service.

By Richard Aronson
Richard Aronson Program Director, Careers in Health Professions