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In His Own Words: Herb Rheingruber, MD ’65 (RES ’69)

  Dr. Herb Rheingruber

Dr. Herb Rheingruber in Punakha, Bhutan.
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Herb Rheingruber

After completing a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, Herb Rheingruber, MD ’65 (RES ’69), practiced with the Northern California Kaiser Foundation Medical Care system until his retirement in 1998. Dr. Rheingruber has been a longtime volunteer with Helping Hands Health Education, and he has been on nine excursions with the organization. This organization helped expand his existing interest in the study and execution of policies relating to women’s health issues in underdeveloped countries. Currently, Dr. Rheingruber serves on the board of directors of HHHE as the international medical coordinator.

Practicing medicine in a Third World country comes with overwhelming challenges, such as diseases due to unsanitary conditions and a lack of public-health education. Political strife and religious conflicts also impede significant development. HHHE has utilized a new paradigm in volunteer work, the basis of which is educating women and children. Educated mothers lay the groundwork for a new generation by lending their care and influence. The children mature to follow their mothers’ teachings of sustaining health and population change. The process began when I encountered a man in Nepal with a parallel vision. Starting as an immigrant, he made his fortune as an entrepreneur. His birthright, however, was to return his largesse to Nepal and other similar areas to make a difference in health and education without religious or political associations. With HHHE, we meet with local leaders to discern the possibility of implementing and staffing a children’s/women’s clinic conjoined with a classroom for education. First, though, the leaders want to have their health problems evaluated — we fit them in to gain their cooperation. We start with a conjoined classroom and a clinic — one to teach and one to treat. We recognize that it is the women who hold up “half the sky” and so accomplish our goal by improving maternal health, autonomy and education.

In the latest HHHE venture, by invitation from the Kingdom of Bhutan, our team assessed Bhutan’s modern and traditional medicine. We found nothing wrong with herbs, hope and prayer, but hemorrhage and obstructed labor require education. It is the women and their children who can make that difference. Our first obligation on arrival is to solve emergency conditions. After triage, the team goes to work evaluating, treating and educating. We bring new fundamental equipment to measure how sick a patient is: thermometer, blood-pressure cuff, stethoscope, otoscope, a copy of CURRENT Medical Diagnosis & Treatment, assorted medications and other equipment. We do the best we can with limited resources. We leave the equipment and medications behind when we return home.

To take on the rewarding drill of volunteerism is the type of activity that allows for self-inspired mental peace. The limited space available here prevents a discussion of the interesting diseases seen and the volume of illnesses treated. However, I have found that there is a solution to the obstacles found in these depressed situations. It lies with the children and the mothers who will guide them to become a new generation focused on healthcare reform.


I wish to recognize the importance of the UCLA Legacy Society, from which I received a scholarship given by someone I never had the opportunity to meet. The scholarship validated my existence and improved my financial state. When I leave this world, I will pass this gift on to students whom I will never meet through a charitable remainder trust. I know that if it were not for UCLA, I would not be writing this.

For learn more about creating a legacy through a trust, visit UCLA Office of Gift Planning.


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