Longtime AzPHA member Pearl Tang, MD passed away last summer at the age of 99. We were notified recently that Dr. Tang bequeathed $50,000 to the Arizona Public Health Association in her will. What a tremendous gift.

Dr. Tang was a public health pioneer and powerhouse. She cared for so many and helped save lives. Her strength of character and personality helped her achieve many accomplishments. She was such an amazing person.

She routinely attended the quarterly AzPHA retiree lunches that are organized by Barbara Burkholder. Dr. Tang was a member of AzPHA for as long as our computer records go.

Before Dr. Tang started her public health career, she left her home in Shanghai, China, and in 1947 married a Chinese-speaking American, Thomas Tang, whom she had met in 1945 while he was stationed in Shanghai during his World War II service. This brought her to Arizona, his home. By this time she had completed her medical training in Shanghai and her residency in obstetrics and gynecology in Quebec City, Canada.

While waiting acceptance by Arizona medical examiners of her foreign credentials she studied and received an MS degree from the University of Arizona in microbiology (1950), after which she was hired by the US Public Health Service to conduct a study of diarrhea diseases. During this yearlong study she identified for the first time the pathogenic E. Coli, a result of national importance.

She and her lawyer husband successfully challenged the Medical Board to allow her to take her qualifying exams, which she passed in 1951.

As a locally recognized physician she was hired to be in charge of the hospital on the San Carlos Indian Reservation. This brought her in contact with the Indian Health Service and other services in rural Arizona.

Dr. Tang was hired part time by the Maricopa County Health Department to develop an immunization program for children in urban and rural parts of the county where she encountered the substandard living conditions and lack of available clean water common among her patients.

This turned into full time work in the well-baby clinics. Working with the staff of public health nurses using statistics collected in each area she instituted prevention education through in-home visits. She then facilitated the establishment of prenatal care clinics in the areas of high infant mortality.

When she was the Chief of Maternal and Child Health for the county she used teamwork, volunteers and federal funds through the 60s and 70s to significantly reduced the infant mortality rates.

For the rest of Pearl’s career until she retired in 1982 she continued to plan, develop, find funding and advocate among the policy making elected officials for new programs. Among them were uterine cancer screening, free dental clinics for children, school health, nutrition, family planning and health care in the Head Start programs.

Because she represents the basic public health values of trained science-based decision making, observant community-based program development and support and a creative spirit and sense of adventure, Pearl’s public health career is a model acknowledged and admired by her public health community.

She was recognized with our Senator Andy Nichols Honor Award in 1969 and given a Lifetime membership in AzPHA in 2012. We posthumously recognized her lifetime work, awarding her our 2021 Elsie Eyer Commitment to Underserved People Award. She received the Diana Gregory Outreach Services Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. 

Here’s a tribute to her during Women’s History Month a couple of months before her passing Pearl Tang, pioneering Arizona doctor, is a name everyone should know and an article in the Arizona Republic about her live and passing Pearl Tang, first Asian female doctor in Arizona.

The AzPHA Board of Directors will be making decisions about how to use Dr. Tang’s incredible gift to improve public health outcomes in the coming months.