October 26, 2020

Alumni highlight: Gregory C. Gray, M.D., MPH, and his work with Martha Myers, M.D.

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Alum profile 1Photos from Dr. Gray's work in Yemen, circa 1992Each year, the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association (MAA) hosts the Martha Myers Role Model Award Ceremony to honor the accomplishments of physician alumni whose lives epitomize the ideal of service to their communities. A member of the School of Medicine Class of 1971, Myers served as a medical missionary in Yemen for over 20 years. After a residency in OB/GYN with an emphasis on surgery and pediatric care, she remained focused on the medical needs of Yemeni women and children. Her frequently stated goal was, “I want to go someplace where I am needed.”

Today, the School of Medicine wants to share a moving story of Myers by another School of Medicine alumnus, Gregory C. Gray, M.D., MPH, FIDSA, class of 1983, who was able to travel to Yemen and work under the inspiring direction of Myers.

Nine years after graduating from UAB School of Medicine, Gray performed a research collaboration with Martha Myers as part of an international team in Yemen. He recalls that the U.S. embassy in Yemen helped organize the team of a dozen medical professionals from multiple organizations in 1992. The collaborative effort was a service project for the people of Yemen, a country that was still recovering from the Gulf War. Gray says, “We spent several weeks traveling to remote villages in Yemen engaging villagers, offering them a modicum of medical care, and enrolling them in the study.”

Myers, who practiced at Jibla Hospital, led Gray’s team to some of the village encounters. “Dr. Myers’ love for the Yemeni people and her Christian faith were wonderful examples to me as a young global health researcher and a Christian,” Gray said. “She was clearly the most selfless and caring physician I had ever met. I heard stories of her selfless care for the Yemeni people that quite frankly rebuked me. Martha did not think like we did. She did not worry about time like we did. Her patients and their care were what drove her. I recently read her biography—The Story of Martha Myers by Barbara Joiner—and it reinforced my impressions of her.”

Gray’s team published the resultant research work in 1999, documenting causes of hepatic and splenic disease among villagers in three different altitudes in rural Yemen. “Much more important to me than the research work was the big impact Martha had on me. She caused me then, and repeatedly since then, to question my values, my use of resources and time, and caused me to ask ‘Am I investing my life wisely?’ and ‘Am I using my medical training in a way that honors Christ?’”

Currently, Gray serves as professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Duke University, the Program in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, and Global Health at Duke Kunshan University in China. Gray states, “Now, I lead three research teams at three universities. We work in more than 10 countries conducting more than 30 infectious disease epidemiology projects.” He says he continues to think of Myers as an outstanding example, and believes it very appropriate for UAB to honor her and alumni from Alabama with the annual Martha Myers award.

The 2020 recipients of the Martha Myers Role Model Awards were Sumpter Blackmon, M.D., a family medicine physician in the underserved area around Camden, Ala., and Wilcox County, and Scott Harris, M.D., state health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health. The Martha Myers Role Model Award recognizes alumni of the UAB School of Medicine from across the country.

The abstract summary of Dr. Gray’s work in Yemen can be read here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10578634/