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Interview with Dr. Ralph Purdy, Med Times Copyright, All Rights Reserved, 2004-2005

Oct. 21, 1999

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Dr. Ralph Purdy, a scholar and a mentor, after receiving his master’s at University of the Pacific (UOP) and his Ph. D. at UCLA, began teaching at UOP. At UOP he taught physiology and pharmacology lab, which stimulated his interest in teaching. Dr. Purdy found it natural to pursue pharmacology as his career and profession. He then came to UCI in fall 1974 as a pharmacology professor to begin his own research project and teaching career. The main reason Dr. Purdy has always enjoyed teaching, which he calls "a helping profession," is that, he says, "I love watching students succeed and grow."

This dedicated pharmacology professor was the Assistant Dean in 1991 and then the Associate Dean in 1997, and now Dr. Purdy is the Dean of Admissions of UC Irvine School of Medicine.


                    Med-Times (MT): What is it like to be the Dean of Admissions for UCI’s medical school?

                    Purdy: Well, there are two aspects to my job as the Dean of Admissions, the

admissions program and the outreach program. Within the school of admissions, it is exciting to work with applicants with such diverse backgrounds and talents. I think it is wonderful to see so many people with so much enthusiasm for medicine.

The main goal of our outreach program is to increase the representation of minorities in medicine. As many people know, Proposition 209

(Prohibition Against Discrimination or Preferential Treatment by State and Other Public Entities. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.) was recently passed just 2 years ago. Since then, the number of minority students (mainly Hispanic and African American) admitted into UC medical schools have dropped dramatically. Last year, the outreach program had success in increasing the percentage of minorities admitted.

This program focuses on encouraging students from grade school through high school, especially from the Santa Ana school district, [to discover] that they have the ability and potential to succeed and make it into medicine. We want the students to know that they can succeed and that if other people can do it, why can’t I?

                    MT: Not only are you the "Big Cheese," but you’re also a professor of pharmacology. What changes do you hope to bring to medicine?

Purdy:. There is a so-called "mechanical model" of practicing medicine. That means to diagnose the patient and to eliminate the disease with drugs and/or surgery. However, this model is slowly progressing into a "biopsychosocial" model that focuses on the patient as a whole, not just the disease. I hope to encourage this model at UCI medical school and attempt to build personal relationships between doctors and patients.

In pharmacology, we are currently running a research project funded by NASA that studies cardiovascular changes with weightlessness in space. Astronauts at many times experience what we call postural intolerance. In other words, they pass out when they stand erect. As of right now, there is no specific remedy or treatment. And our goal is to find the drug

                    MT: Medicine and technology are always evolving in certain ways. In what way is pharmacology evolving?

          Purdy: Scientists are now attempting to map out the entire set of human DNA with the human genome project. In the future, pharmacology will  allow us to map out genetic diseases and abnormalities that could possibly be prevented. It will have an enormous impact upon the completion of   [the knowledge] of human genetic make-up. We have so-called "gene therapy" for treating genetic diseases. As we step into the Millennium, this is where pharmacology comes in. Pharmacology will be responsible for developing drugs containing oligonucleotides that will block a certain receptor of a specific site on DNA and inhibit the disease and its development.

MT: Can you give us a general criteria the admissions board uses to determine an applicants "future"?

Purdy: Sure. We divide the student’s qualifications into three categories which are all equally important.

#1 GPA and MCAT score

- average GPA for students admitted into UCI medical school last year was roughly 3.7.

#2 clinical experience and involvement

- research is an important element because if you involve yourself in research that pertains to what you want to do in medicine it exemplifies your interest and enthusiasm.

#3 personal characteristics

- commitment to service and volunteer work

- activities, demonstrates leadership

- personal effectiveness and time management

                    MT: Would you mind answering this quarter’s poll question? Medicine and technology are advancing at an alarming rate, enabling us to extend the                      average term of life by preserving and often creating life.  Do you think medicine and technology have gone  too far?

                    Purdy: No. Medicine and technology are supposed to push the limits of science.

Societal events and pressures push the boundaries. We need to meet as well as exceed these boundaries to make medical advances. Medicine can’t do that in a vacuum. If medicine and technology have gone too far, then society will tell us. They will simply remind us. If a medical/technological advancement is published in the paper, questioning its bioethics, and the public is outraged or even against the advancement, then we know we’ve gone too far.

MT: You mentioned "bioethics" in your last response. What are the some concerns and issues that exist today in medicine?

Purdy: I think the biggest problem right now is the fact that 40 million people are medically uninsured. The government is trying to lower the number as much as possible with many different options, except adopting an uniform public health system, because there are so many things involved…advantages and disadvantages of HMO are some factors.

                    MT: If you could be either Superman or Batman, who would you be and why?

Purdy: I think I would be Superman. He has more superpowers, which equals the ability to help more people.

MT: If there was one thing you wanted to say, or a personal statement, what would it be?

                    Purdy: You have far greater potential than you can ever realize. Take advantage of every opportunity.