Alumni Profile: Rob Peck '99
Posted May 13, 2011
The reality of death is a daily challenge for Covenant alumnus Dr. Rob Peck ’99 as he teaches and practices medicine in the resource-limited country of Tanzania. With only one physician per 50,000, Tanzania has the lowest ratio of physicians to patients in the world. Of the nearly 40 million people living in Tanzania, approximately 34 million will never see a doctor in their lifetime.
Rob is based at the Bugando Medical Center where he is a Weill Cornell faculty member. For the students who come to learn at Bugando, the mortality rate from preventable diseases is shocking and it should be shocking, says Rob. “It should be shocking because it is something that should not occur in this world,” he says. “But I always tell my students, this is part of the learning experience; this is part of understanding medicine in Africa. The hope is that it will motivate them to try to do something about it – to try to make a difference.”
By the time Rob was ready to graduate from high school, his plans to become a medical doctor were firmly in place with his acceptance to a private university with a strong pre-med program. However, at the request of his dad, Rob agreed to visit Covenant “without any intention of considering it seriously.”
While on campus for that visit, Rob says, “I was immediately impressed with the quality of the professors, their commitment to teaching and discipleship, the small class size and the deep relationships I witnessed between faculty and students. Unlike the other pre-med programs I had seen, I saw at Covenant the unique opportunity to learn to think and, more specifically, to think Christianly. This set Covenant apart to me.”
Rob believes his liberal arts education at Covenant prepared him well for graduate studies and his practice of medicine. “Covenant gave me the scientific knowledge I needed as a medical student,” he says, “but even more importantly, Covenant taught why studying medicine with discipline and vigor was an essential part of my calling as a Christian.”
Now as a physician and a professor, Rob says, “I think the greatest impact Covenant had on my current work is how I learned from so many professors the tremendous impact Christian professors have in teaching students to integrate faith and calling. As I work daily here in Tanzania, I think of how I am still learning together with my students what it means to live out my faith as a doctor.”
Rob says that ironically one of the most inspiring moments of his time at Covenant was when he was asked to write an article about English professor Dr. Nick Barker after the death of his wife. “I remember vividly, as if just yesterday,” he says, “the evenings spent in Dr. Barker’s kitchen hearing him speak adoringly of his wife, of the joy of their life together and of her final days. I remember sitting there with Liz, my then-future wife, for three evenings thinking, ‘I hope that Liz and I can live God’s love for one another in the same way.’ ”
Rob first met his wife, Liz O’Leary Peck ’99, when they were both toddlers and their fathers were in seminary together. Their dads also interned together at the same church in Philadelphia. “Our parents moved in different directions after seminary,” Rob explains, “but we reconnected in 1995 as Covenant freshmen and were dating by spring of our freshman year. We dated through college and were married one week after graduation. From Covenant, we went to Vanderbilt University together where Liz received her master’s in science and nursing and is a family nurse practitioner, and I received my medical degree.” From Vanderbilt, the couple moved to Boston, where Rob completed a residency in medicine and pediatrics at the Harvard Combined Program.
As a medical student, Rob traveled to Haiti to work on HIV research as well as a project involving an anthrax outbreak in the Artibonite Valley. During these medical school rotations, he met doctors who would later invite him to join them in Tanzania where, together, they would forge a new vision – to assist in the establishment and strengthening of a new medical school in Mwanza at Bugando Medical Center.
Upon the Pecks’ arrival in Mwanza in 2007, Rob began to work on two primary goals: first, to develop an outstanding curriculum to educate medical students and residents; second, to coordinate various collaborations for visiting doctors from Cornell, which numbered 30 to 40 per year, a large number even in the beginning years.
In 2004, Bugando enrolled its first ten Tanzanian medical students. Today there are 430 students in medical school and approximately 60 postgraduate students who are studying for master’s in medicine degrees. “We are now part of a larger dynamic collaboration that I think could make Bugando one of the very best medical schools in East Africa,” says Rob.
Rob and Liz now have four children; five year-old Bridget and four year-old Jack were both born in Boston; two year-old Evie was born at the Bugando hospital where Rob works and adopted by the Pecks, and one year-old Amani, whose name means “peace” in Kiswahili.
Rob values his days at Covenant, and as a family the Pecks see the value of giving to the College. “All of our money is God’s,” says Rob. “In giving to Covenant we are giving back to God a little bit of what He gave us through our education on Lookout Mountain with the hope that many future generations will continue to benefit from its unique learning environment.”