Image of green fruits and vegetables in the shape of a heart

Mona Hanna-Attisha, Flint whistleblower, receives the inaugural Vilcek and Arnold P. Gold foundations Humanism in Healthcare Award for immigrant healthcare leaders. The award will be presented at the AAMC Annual Meeting in November 2019.

May 20, 2019

Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician and associate professor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine Division of Public Health, is an immigrant born in the United Kingdom to parents of Iraqi descent; she is receiving the award for research and activism that brought national attention to the widespread lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan through the public water supply.

Hanna-Attisha's public health activism arises from a deep wellspring of humanism—an ideal that puts human interests, values, and dignity at the core of healthcare. She is a champion for underprivileged kids worldwide. 

The Vilcek Foundation and the Arnold P. Gold Foundation sought to honor the impact of humanism and compassion in medicine while spotlighting immigrant leaders in American healthcare when they joined forces to create the award. Hanna-Attisha is receiving the award for her monumental work protecting the children of Flint and for her continued activities as the director of the Michigan State University–Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative.

Upon the rise of fascism, oppression, and dictatorship in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s rule, Hanna-Attisha immigrated with her family to the United States in 1980. They settled in Michigan, where she later received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health from the University of Michigan, her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, and completed her residency at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit.

In September 2015, Hanna-Attisha’s research uncovered high blood lead levels found in Flint children after the city’s water supply was switched to a new source as a part of austerity measures in 2014. Despite denials from state officials that the water source was responsible for the elevated blood lead levels, Hanna-Attisha’s persistent advocacy, along with that of Flint community activists, forced city management to acknowledge wrongdoing, switch the water supply back to a safe source, and commit to long-term public health measures to mitigate the lead poisoning.

Her efforts have since made an international impact as she has testified before the United States Congress twice, was presented the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America, and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2011, as a faculty member at Wayne State University in Detroit, she was recognized as a role model of humanistic care and inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

Hanna-Attisha’s deep commitment to humanism is illuminated in her recently published bestselling book, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City. She writes, “Physicians need to be trained to see symptoms of the larger structural problems that will bedevil a child’s health and well-being more than a simple cold ever could… When we know about the child’s environment, we can treat these kids in the best, most holistic way, which will leave them with much more than just a prescription for amoxicillin.”

The award includes an unrestricted cash prize of $10,000, which she has pledged to donate to the Flint Kids Fund, part of The Community Foundation of Greater Flint, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The award will be presented at Learn Serve Lead 2019: The AAMC Annual Meeting this November in Phoenix, Arizona. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has been a champion for immigrant physicians and their contributions to academic medicine, and Dr. Hanna-Attisha will share her insights as part of the Voices in Medicine and Society lecture series during the meeting. 


The "2019 Vilcek Gold Award" artwork on the main news page, courtesy of the Vilcek Foundation.