Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Update

Dr. Ricardo Azziz Med'81

Named President of the Medical College of Georgia

Those who remember Ricardo Azziz, M.D., Med'81 from medical school or know him from his extensive involvement in alumni activities at Penn State College of Medicine will not be surprised by his latest achievement.

Later this month, Azziz will leave his post as professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (CSMC) in Los Angeles to move across the country with his family and become the eighth president of the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), Georgia's health sciences university.

Leaders from MCG state that "Dr. Azziz stood out from …an impressive pool of candidates" and noted that they were extremely confident in his ability to lead the institution as it expands its capacity to educate healthcare professionals and meet state needs.

Reflecting on his experience as a medical student at Penn State, Azziz explains that his life-long desire to "make a difference" led him to this new position. He hopes to improve the health of residents in southwestern Georgia, who rely on this large, state-supported university system to meet their healthcare needs.

"As physicians, we are in a unique position to change the health of our fellow citizens," says Azziz. "We can't stay in our silos; we have to be part and parcel of any solution. Students and faculty alike need to understand the consequences of the care we provide, the cost of that care, and the systems by which society and health practitioners interact."

He notes that medical education is continuously changing, preparing students to meet new and emerging challenges, incorporating new technologies such as increased simulation, and adapting to the changing needs of students, patients and faculty alike, thus creating a different type of physician for the future.

Azziz currently holds the endowed Helping Hand of Los Angles Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology and has served as director of the Center for Androgen-Related Research and Discovery at CSMC since 2002. As a clinician, Azziz maintains a nationally recognized practice in the care of women suffering from reproductive endocrinologic disorders, particularly androgen excess.

A fellow of both the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Obstetricians, he has been recognized annually by America's Top Doctors since 2001. The author of six textbooks, more than 150 chapters and reviews, over 200 peer-reviewed articles, and 250-plus abstracts, he received the President's Achievement Award for Clinical Investigation from the Society for Gynecologic Investigation in 2000, among other awards and honors.

Azziz has held numerous academic appointments at the University of Alabama and the University of California, Los Angeles, where he served as deputy director of the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and assistant dean for clinical and translational sciences.

A native of Uruguay, he traveled the world as a child with his research-scientist parents, both Ph.D's. He left them in Puerto Rico to enter medical school at age 19. "I went to my interview at Penn State dressed like one of my father's graduate students, wearing a fisherman's sweater, jeans, boots, and headband," laughs Azziz. "I walked into a room full of dark-suited individuals and still remember feeling the horror of being underdressed."

"Despite that," he adds cheerfully, "Penn State had enough confidence in me to offer a position." Penn State also provided Azziz with the ability to pursue his interest in research. True to his bloodline, he spent summers working in a lab. "It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, introducing me to all the challenges of research I would encounter later in my career," he says.

While Azziz has built a successful career as a physician, scientist, educator and administrator, he fully credits the "superb" education he received at Penn State as foundational to his success.

"The training I received at Penn State University was among the best," says Azziz, who completed his internship, residency and fellowship at Georgetown University Hospital and Johns Hopkins Hospital. "Our alma mater provided us with the springboard and basic training that allows us to be who we are, so it is critically important for alumni to give back and support the institution."

For Azziz, support includes volunteering his time. He served as president of the Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Society, helped organize class reunions, and helped establish the Class of 1981 student scholarship fund.

He adds, "The cost of tuition, which students and their families feel very directly, actually provides only a small part of the support needed to operate and grow an academic institution. Alumni need to understand that their financial support, whether small or large, is critically important."

"Many alumni don't like the word philanthropy. They think it applies to people ‘with money'," Dr. Azziz. "But it's actually about relationships and bringing people together. Whether you feel fortunate… and most physicians are… or not, as an alumni you are keenly aware of the value of the school and its faculty, and who better than you to introduce the school and its needs to the larger community of potential donors. There are those who give, and those who need to receive, and your role should include connecting the two."

The Late Acceptance

Azziz was late getting accepted to Penn State for one simple reason: he had set up a separate post office box to receive all his application responses, but then promptly forgot about it. In the end, he found out about Penn State through a former professor and friend, who mentioned that the school had been trying to send him letters.

Happily, Azziz did finally receive and accept the offer to attend Penn State late that same summer. However, he missed all the housing deadlines and didn't have a place to live. In the end, Azziz and three other students were placed in a little white house on the corner of the entrance to the Medical Center.

He lived in the "white house" for two years, building many fond memories. "I got to know a lot of people, and we had the greatest parties because we actually owned a house!" he laughs. "But being the youngest member of the class wasn't an asset to my social life. It did, though, help my studies."

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