Chapter 03: Committed to Academic Medicine

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Chapter 03: Committed to Academic Medicine

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Description

Dr. Alexanian begins this chapter with a discussion of his military service (U S Army, Captain, 1956−1958). He discusses his reason for specializing in anesthesia. He comments on serving as part of the occupying force in Japan. Next, Dr. Alexanian sketches his path from a research fellowship (1960-1962) in Hematology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Washington to a second fellowship (1962−1963) in Radiobiology at the Christie Hospital and Holt Radium Institute in Manchester, England. He explains that his interest in cancer research emerged as he sought opportunities for positions in academic institutions. At the end of this chapter, Dr. Alexanian talks about his comic book collection.

Identifier

Alexanian_R_01_20140415_S03

Publication Date

4-15-2014

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Professional Path; Military Experience; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background; Professional Path; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

+ I also spent two years in the army. In those days, there was a required draft of physicians, so that I was classified as an obligated volunteer, if you can see the kind of inconsistency there. (Rosolowski laughs.) That was the designation.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Really? An obligated volunteer. And this was 1956 to 1958.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Right.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yes. And you were a captain.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Yes. It was important to do that because there were no residency programs that would accept you if there was a risk of being drafted-

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh, how interesting.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

-during the program.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Right.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

So any of the selective residencies made it clear that, "You'd better get this behind you, or else we're not interested."

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Did that military service develop any skills for you that were important later?

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

After I was drafted and sent to the what they call U.S. Army Physician Training Center at San Antonio, which I think still is active-all physicians went through a six-week program there-they made it clear that they were seeking volunteers in certain specialties which were in short supply in the army, and they were in short supply because there were military bases all over the world in the Cold War period, and there large numbers of dependents at many of these bases. So the choices were in areas such as pediatrics, anesthesia, radiology, ear, nose, and throat, areas that were meant to provide coverage for dependents in a greater way than their normal draft could do. So I elected to have training in anesthesia for somewhat selfish reasons, because I felt it might be interesting and useful, but also I knew for certain that I would be based at a large hospital in a comfortable area, because there was a rumor that you might have potential assignments to Greenland, Alaska, or the Eniwetok Atoll and isolated places like that if you did not having something special. So, in a way, I was lucky so that I had anesthesia training at Fort Benning, Georgia, which was a large military facility, and was assigned to a hospital in Japan, which was my first trip abroad and opened up a whole new society of interest. Of course, it was approximately ten years after the war, so that there was not the society that we know of today.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Right. A very different attitude towards Americans, too, I imagine.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Well, actually, by then, the public was very receptive. As you probably know, General MacArthur had a very enlightened rule. He retained the Emperor and many of the customs as the old military hierarchy was disbanded. So it was a pleasant time. It wasn't very challenging, but it was a time I had to pass over.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So when you finished that, you came back and went to a clinical residency at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

University of Washington, in medicine.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

And I returned to the place I had my internship because I liked the atmosphere and was impressed with the training program, and I thought this would be a way to begin my career, and went through the normal rotations in internal medicine for two years and then elected a specialty in hematology for two more years.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And that was your research fellowship from '60 to '62.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Yes. I met my wife, which was certainly a very important event. (laughs)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And her name is?

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Lois. We're still married; same lady.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, that's an achievement these days. (laughter)

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Right. And have one daughter.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And her name is?

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Is Jane, J-a-n-e, who has her own family, and whom we visit.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So tell me about your hematology residency, because that, of course, ended up being-

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Well, the hematology residency was a clinical hematology program for the first two years and then a research program in the third year, and that was followed by another year of research in Manchester, England, with a research leader in the field where I did my first research and wrote my first papers. His name was Lajtha, L-a-j-t-h-a.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, Laszlo, the first name.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

You very kindly put all these names on your CV, so I have them down, which is great. (laughs)

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Well, good.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And that was from 1962 to 1963, the Christie Hospital and Holt Radium Institute in Manchester, England.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Yes. He had been based at Oxford, and I thought when I applied for the program that I would be at Oxford, I thought that was really neat, and then after I was accepted in his program, he made it clear that he was moving to what was considered a better position for him in Manchester. And so therefore, I trailed along to Manchester.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So how did these residencies develop your interests in hematology? And, you know, because, of course, the question is coming, when did you become very interested in cancer.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

A lot of that are byproducts of the opportunities for academic positions. When one is embarking on a hematology training program, you really don't know where you're going to end up, whether you're going to be in some group practice in hematology or you might get an appointment at some medical school or move on to another training or research program, so that the opportunities were not clear, and so you progressed from year to year hoping for the best, you might say.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Interesting. Now, am I correct in assuming that you were directing yourself more toward an academic career than private practice?

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Yes. Well, it seemed that whatever exposure I had in my education in a way sort of appealed to me as a potential career, and I never knew what was going to happen. So in high school, I thought, "Well, it might be nice to be a teacher," and then in college I said, "Well, maybe I could learn to become a professor of something." Then in medical school I said, "Well, I'm going to become a doctor. I'll become a general practitioner somewhere and see what happens."

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, you're a bring-it-on kind of guy. (laughs)

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Bring it on. (laughs) Then as you go on and on, and you say, "Well, I like the people, so maybe I'll become a professor in a medical school," after you see all the-I said, "Well, how are you going to do that unless you make yourself known somehow?" So I said, "Well, maybe I'll do some research and maybe I'll find a way to do that." So from year to year, as you can imagine, I was always packing my suitcase going somewhere.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

I'm starting to feel sorry for Lois. (laughs)

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Well, and I'm sure you've interviewed others, so that between the ages of sixteen and thirty-two, I was packing my suitcase every year or two, going from one thing, place, to another. And I wasn't very good at packing, my wife will tell you. She said, "How did you manage to pack?" One of her favorite questions. And I said, "I don't know how to pack." So I always had many of my personal things stashed with my mother somewhere, wherever she was with my father, so I never regained my boyhood things until I settled into some place, like my stamp collection or my baseball cards or all this stuff.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Well, you kind of made up for it when you came to Houston, because you stayed here for-

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Comic books.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Your comic books. (laughs)

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

You can't do without those.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh, you had a big collection of comic books?

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

Not big, but my mother was very fast to get rid of them.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

What was your favorite comic, or did you have a bunch of them?

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

I had some of the first Batman and Superman comics.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh, my gosh.

Raymond Alexanian, MD:

I never knew that they were going to be useful or valuable. (laughter)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

That's funny.

Chapter 03: Committed to Academic Medicine

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