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Dr. Robert Fortuine Endowed WWAMI Scholarship

Wasilla resident and a longtime Alaska physician Dr. Robert Fortuine was born March 10, 1934, in Cambridge, New York, and grew up in Ogunquit, Maine. Through a generous scholarship, he graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and then attended Cornell University where, in 1956, he received a degree in German Literature Classics. In 1960, he was awarded his M.D., C.M. degree from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. On Jan. 16, 1960, he married Sheila Anne Calder in Outremont, Quebec.

After internship at Montreal General Hospital, he received a commission in the U.S. Public Health Service. While on active duty, he earned a Master of Public Health degree from Harvard and completed residency in general preventative medicine at University of Oklahoma’s Health Center.

Field assignments in the Indian Health Service included successive posting as medical officer and medical officer in charge at the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation at Belcourt, North Dakota (1961-63), then as service unit director at Kanakanak, Alaska (1963-64), Bethel, Alaska (1964-67), on the Navajo Reservation at Fort Defiance, Arizona, (1970-71) and finally as director of the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage (1971-77). From 1977-1980, he was detailed to the U.S. State Department as international health attaché, the liaison officer between the U.S. government and the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Until his retirement from the Public Health Service in 1987, he worked as a family physician and emergency room physician at the Alaska Native Medical Center, then spent another 12 years as a volunteer operating a weekly skin clinic at the hospital. Since 1989, Dr. Fortuine has taught first-year medical students at the University of Alaska Anchorage as part of the WWAMI program of the University of Washington. He was also adjunct (later affiliate) professor of health sciences at UAA and clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

In his later years, he was known mainly as a medical historian of Alaska and the Arctic regions. He wrote six books, edited and co-edited two proceedings of international conferences, and collaborated on three major published bibliographies of the health of the indigenous people of North America. In addition, he published many papers, notably in the areas of the impact of disease on Alaska history, Alaska Native traditional medicine and medical aspects of Arctic exploration.

Over the years he was presented with many awards, including several Public Health Service medals, the John Phillips Awards “for service to the public good” the Trudeau Award, the Jack Hildes Medal, and an honorary doctor of science from the University of Alaska. He was named Alaska Historian of the Year in 1990 for his book “Chills and Fever; Health and Disease in the Early History of Alaska” and again in 2005 for his book “Must We All Die? Alaska’s Enduring Struggle with Tuberculosis.” He was also a fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America, a founding member of the American Society for Circumpolar Health, and a co-founder of the Amundsen Educational Center in Soldotna, a Christian vocational school for Alaska Natives.

His personal interest included his family, his dogs, genealogy, etymology, foreign languages, history, biography, classical music, decorative knot-tying, the Boston Red Sox and working with his computer.

Dr. Fortuine passed away in 2009.

Impact

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