Xavier Magazine

Alumni Profiles: Ralph Watson, MD

Bachelor of Science in chemistry, 1970
Professor of medicine, Michigan State University (retired), East Lansing, Mich.

BMOC | “At graduation, I was given the Francis Finn Award as an outstanding graduating senior. I thought I would eventually work at Procter and Gamble as a research chemist. They said, ‘Go get your PhD in chemistry, and we will have a job for you in research.’ So that was my plan.”

Different Kind of Chemistry
| “I was dating this girl who was a medical student. She was having a hard time with biological chemistry and begged me to help her. I had never taken biochemistry. So I sat in on this course, and it was the most fascinating course I had ever encountered. It was the chemistry of life. It was much more fascinating than quantum mechanics and physical chemistry. So I went to the medical school admissions office, showed them my transcripts and asked if I could get it in. They said I could.”

In the Beginning | “After completing my residency, I set up a practice in Avondale, three miles from where I grew up. I had a wide range of patients—doctors, lawyers, judges, two former mayors. I also was privileged to take care of patients who had no money and no insurance but also needed and deserved excellent medical care.”

Finding a Cause | “Many of my African-American patients had hypertension. It is more severe and more deadly in African Americans than in whites. We have many more strokes, more heart failure and six times higher rate of kidney failure due to hypertension. Why it is more severe in African Americans is one of the big mysteries in medicine.”

Quest for a Cure | “I had a very busy practice for eight years. I also was an assistant clinical professor of medicine at UC. But Michigan State kept trying to recruit me to join the full-time faculty of the medical school. I finally decided to see if they would make me an offer I couldn’t refuse—and they did. Going into academic medicine would allow me to spend more time with my family. Plus I was hoping to do research and come up with the answer of what is hypertension and why is it worse in blacks?”

Academic Excellence | “I became director of the Michigan State University Hypertension Clinic in 1995, became a certified specialist in clinical hypertension and also was named a Fellow of the American Society of Hypertension. Eventually I became the second black full professor of medicine in the history of Michigan State University. Last year I received the Lifetime Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State. And in May 2012, I gave the commencement address at our medical school graduation.”

Still Researching | “I retired in July 2012 from MSU after 33 years. I still have my research lab and am still doing vascular molecular biology hypertension research.”

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