Career Interview: Gerald Mark Reaven

Professor of Medicine (Active Emeritus)
Stanford University School of Medicine

ASHG: What academic or extracurricular activities were you involved in during your training that helped you stand out among your peers?

Dr. Reaven: I am not sure if I “stood-out”, but if there is anything that has helped me in my academic life it was the good fortune of being in an undergraduate program whose goal was to help students learn how to read, write, and think. We did not read text books; but the great books of the world. We had small classrooms for discussion sessions, where we discussed and challenged what had been written before us.

To put it most succinctly, if I could question what Plato had to say, I was not overcome by the New England Journal of Medicine. It was the basis of a career-long effort to bring new eyes to important biological constructs.

ASHG: Can you describe your transition from trainee to working professional? How did you land your first “real” job?

Dr. Reaven: I joined what was essentially a new medical school as a Senior Research Fellow. Although I was a “Fellow”, I functioned as a faculty member in that I was responsible for seeing patients, teaching medical students, and initiating an independent research program. I was in a “real job” as a Fellow, and when a Chairman of the Department of Medicine was appointed, my status was simply changed from Fellow to Faculty member. How lucky can one get?

ASHG: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?

Dr. Reaven: It is an easy question. The favorite parts of my job are interacting with young trainees and having the opportunity to continue the excitement of doing research. My least favorite parts are the continued bureaucratization of universities, and competing for research funds as the NIH reduces support, particularly for single investigator-initiated studies aimed at understanding pathophysiology in human beings.

ASHG: Who was one of your most important mentors? How did you approach/meet him or her? How did you choose this person to be your mentor?

Dr. Reaven: I had two that were very important to me. One was Rachmiel Levine, a famous diabetologist, who gave an elective course in endocrinology for medical students—a gland/week—reviewing how we learned about their pathophysiology. I can still recall the thrust of many of his lectures, approximately 65 years ago. What I gained from him was how important it was to do the clearest and simplest experiment necessary to prove the point you were trying to make.

The other was John Luetscher, who discovered aldosterone. He was a clinical scientist who was able to discern when the conventional wisdom concerning a clinical explanation for an abnormality and to initiate experiments in animal and people that would eventually lead to a much better explanation. The idea of focusing on important clinical issues and trying to illuminate them more thoughtfully is a trait of his that I tried to emulate throughout my career.

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