Ralph Green, MD, PhD, stepped down recently as chair of medical
pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of California-Davis after
13 years. He remains at the school to focus on research, teaching and clinical
service as a professor of pathology and internal medicine after a one-year
sabbatical that included trips to England, Denmark and Italy.
Green is a first-generation South African, the son of a father who left
Latvia to escape czarist Russia and a mother who fled the country later to
avoid the advance of Nazism. He has four sons three are physicians and
one an oncologist one daughter and eight grandchildren.
Green began his career in Johannesburg General Hospital in 1964 before
moving to the United Kingdom to further his career and to get away from
apartheid. In 1975, he came to the United States and joined the Scripps Clinic
and Research Foundation in La Jolla, Calif. After stints at Ohio State
University and the Cleveland Clinic, he returned to California in 1996 to
become chair at University of California-Davis.
Walking, which sounds very pedestrian, if youll forgive the pun. I
find walking is not just good for my body; I have an opportunity to reflect.
When Im walking with my wife, I can talk to her uninterrupted from
distractions such as the phone. Its quality time for us.
The tongue-in-cheek answer is that Id probably be retired and have
more money. Ive learned that I have a bit of an entrepreneurial flair. If
I hadnt been in medicine, I think I would have ended up in some kind of
entrepreneurial enterprise and probably made a ton of money. As it is, I ended
up making a lot of money for my department. I am glad to have done so.
What I really wanted to do was become a physicist. Thats where my
intellectual interests lay. I ended up in medicine almost by default. I was too
insecure when I went to university and contemplating graduate studies to go out
on a limb and become a pure scientist. I followed my late fathers
admonition that you need a profession that is portable and will give you
security anywhere in the world.
I would let others judge this, rather than express an opinion that might
be filled with hubris. Mentoring of younger hematologists, pathologists and
scientists has been my biggest success. Many of them have moved on to
successful careers, providing me a great amount of pleasure and satisfaction.
Somebody once advised me that, in a new place, I should ask a bunch of
people, What are the three most important things to know? There was
a guy working in the lab at Scripps, Bob Yelenosky, who shared this Yogi
Berra-like wisdom. He said, Remember that Tuesday is trash day.
Ill never forget that because youre in pretty big trouble if you
forget which day is trash day.
And from my late father, I got: Good friends are always
Bill Crosby, a well-known hematologist, was my first mentor in the
United States and the best and most generous mentor I ever had. He said,
Ralph, if youre convinced that youre right, dont give
Its not about being stubborn. He was saying, if you believe in
what you believe in, stick to it. There will be a lot of people trying to
deflect you, but if you think youre right, stick it out.
I should also mention Crosbys successor at Scripps, Ernie Beutler,
who was instrumental in opening many doors of opportunity for me.
We are developing ever-smarter forms of targeted therapies for disease.
Parallel to this is the development of personalized treatment protocols.
Its one thing to develop smart drugs; its another to ensure that
the form of treatment is appropriately tailored to an individual. No matter how
smart the drug and the drug design is, it may not be good for everyone because
of genetic differences among individuals.
To take that a step further, its not just the genetic makeup of
the individual its also about the genetic makeup of the tumor.
Were dealing with several variables there.
Part and parcel of the direction in which were moving is
developing ever-smarter methods of identifying and diagnosing the type of tumor
by appropriate fingerprinting at the gene level and the level of protein
signature, in other words, the whole field of proteomics.
Lastly, I see the impact of physics and the use of microparticles and
optical techniques mapping a better understanding of structure-function
Although I cant think of anything else on the horizon that is
going to revolutionize medicine, Im ready to be surprised.
I just recently finished Youth by J.M. Coetzee, who won the
Nobel Prize for literature a few years back. Hes South African, so his
writing resonates with me, but its not just that. While in Oxford this
summer, I had the opportunity to hear Coetzee speak and to meet him in person.
Youth is the second part of an autobiographical trilogy
that describes the years he spent in youth in the 1960s in London. This strikes
a chord with me because I was in London in the late 1960s during the Czech
uprising against communism, the post-Cuban missile crisis, the moon landing and
the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. I found it an absolutely fascinating
book. Its not light reading, but its engrossing.
I walk, of course. I have a lot of good intentions to get to the gym.
Apart from the usual weakness for chocolate, we eat a pretty good diet and
prefer Mediterranean food to the bad stuff.
Italy. Weve traveled to a lot of places, and some places on
several occasions, but Italy is way ahead on the list. We always want to go
back there. I spent part of my sabbatical in Milan and took two weeks on the
Scenically, its beautiful. Its steeped in history, and so
there is a lot to explore, especially in the major cities. Good food, good wine
and great people.
Ill be provincial. Theres a restaurant in downtown
Sacramento called The Waterboy. The food is excellent, the ambience is good,
and what tells me that its really good is that all my successful
recruitments started with dinner at The Waterboy I think Im
batting 100%. So now, the ones who look good, I take to The Waterboy.