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Student award honors professor who championed social justice

Doren Fredrickson
Doren Fredrickson

A new award established in memory of a University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita professor will benefit one graduating master’s of public health student each year.

The award honors Doren D. Fredrickson, M.D., Ph.D, who died in August 2008. Fredrickson earned bachelor’s degrees in education and Spanish from KU in 1979. He graduated from the KU School of Medicine in 1986. From 1992 until his death, he taught preventive medicine and public health at the KU School of Medicine-Wichita.


Ed Dismuke, M.D., a professor and former department chair and dean of KU School of Medicine-Wichita, recalled asking Fredrickson to join the faculty in 1992.

“Doren was a fierce advocate for social justice,” Dismuke said. “And he walked the talk.”

Doren was a fierce advocate for social justice.

Fredrickson’s parents, Ronald and Patricia Fredrickson, of Osage City, Kan., established the award fund through KU Endowment, using memorial gifts sent after his death and adding $17,500 to fully endow the fund. The Fredricksons will present the award to a student at next May’s graduation ceremony.

The Fredricksons described their son as a supreme humanitarian who focused his career on helping those who were uninsured or medically underserved.

“Our son was all about social justice. We wanted in some way to carry on what Doren was doing and what he was all about,” said Ronald Fredrickson. “It’s a way of helping us with the grieving process. We’re missing Doren and it’s nice to be able to help someone who is concerned in the same way that he was about helping people.”

Dismuke said Fredrickson’s concerns for the underserved affected his life deeply. He could have afforded a house in an upscale Wichita development, but chose an apartment in a low-income neighborhood. He drove cars like those his neighbors drove. His interest in other cultures was evident in his ability to speak five languages.

In talking with Fredrickson’s family and friends while preparing to write the eulogy, Dismuke learned more fully what had motivated his long-time friend to devote his life to public service.

“In college, he was trying to figure out what to do with his life so that he could serve mankind and the underserved,” Dismuke said. “On a trip around the world, in Africa, someone told him it’s not enough to be well-meaning — that he should develop a particular skill that he could use to help those who are less fortunate.”

After earning his bachelor’s degrees from KU, Fredrickson taught in the Kansas City area. His drive to help others soon turned his career to medicine. He enrolled at Emporia State to fulfill pre-med requirements and applied to medical school. He became board certified in pediatrics and preventive medicine and public health. In 1995, he completed his Ph.D. in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina.

“Through the end of his life, he was ethically and morally committed to the underserved,” Dismuke said. “All this money he was saving from having a low-cost apartment, he very quietly donated for a social cause for the uninsured and so forth. The guy just really lived what he believed in.”

The Fredricksons said their son was caring, loving, intelligent and generous. He was always the first to greet someone, his father said. His voice, an expressive baritone, readily conveyed his enthusiasm and happiness, his mother said. He walked fast and had an easy, but careful, laugh.

Doren Fredrickson lived in Wichita and owned a farm near that of his parents. On weekends he worked on improving his farm. He installed terraces to prevent erosion, and tended to the walnut trees and other trees he planted. “He always said you should leave the world better than you found it,” his father said.

A multifaceted person, Dr. Fredrickson applied his passion for auto mechanics to a couple of old trucks he used at the farm, he enjoyed woodworking.

He was active in his church and was named a National Merit finalist in high school. He liked to be physically active. At the age of 12, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. His father attributed his death at the age of 53 to complications related to the disease.

Dr. Fredrickson was one of the Wichita School of Medicine’s first recruits to the newly formed Department of Preventive Medicine in 1993. He received numerous honors and awards, including the Golden Apple Teaching Award, the Diversity of Kansas Award for Brotherhood and Sisterhood, and the W.T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence. He was the Kansas Health Foundation distinguished professor of public health. He served as health officer for the Sedgwick County Health Department. As a pediatrician, he was a strong advocate of mothers breast-feeding their infants.

Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of the KU School of Medicine, described Fredrickson as a “triple threat,” because he was an outstanding clinician, a great educator and a respected researcher.

The gift will be managed by KU Endowment, the official fundraising and fund-management foundation for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

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