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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Spring 1994, Vol.14, No.2
Helen Ranney:First Women of Medicine

By Peter Wortsman
Academician-clinician-research scientist extraordinaire, noted for the major contributions she made to understanding the structure and function of human hemoglobin, she was the first woman in the United States to chair a department of medicine (University of California, San Diego, 1973-86). And though most of her research has been in biochemistry, there is no question about her primary identification: "I see myself as a physician first and foremost-somebody who takes care of people."
Dr. Ranney made her medical mark in the postwar period Lewis Thomas called the golden age of scientific medicine-or to use Dr. Ranney's own turn of phrase: "A time when fish flew and forests walked and figs grew upon the thorn."
"We were the group that was there in medicine when medicine became a science," she observes. "We were there when the antibiotics came out. We were there for the polio vaccines and the great contributions in infectious diseases and medical microbiology. We represent the beginning of the era of people who can see medicine as a series of scientific questions."
After half a century of scientific questioning, her vigor has not waned. Her broad, open face and the laserlike intensity of her bespectacled gaze still convey the curiosity of the tireless investigator-as though peering at life through a high-power microscope-while a ready smile and a hearty laugh attest to what former P&S colleague Abbie Knowlton'42 describes as "her evident delight in the humor of the human estate."

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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