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How I decided to go to medical school


Why I joined the navy
Baruch Blumberg Physician
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Well, the thing that dominated our early, well late childhood I suppose and our teenage, was the Second World War and essentially… and I was 16 I guess when the war started, 15 or 16, 15 when the war in Europe started, but, and they were… and people were being drafted when they were  at that, at 18 - the draft age dropped to 17 later in the war - but there was, and everyone… and everybody was talking about not how they could get out of being in the army because there was sort of essentially no way of doing that, or very few ways of doing it, but everybody was talking about what they were going to do. Well, it turns out that in the navy at that time, if you volunteered, you could sort of pick what you wanted to do, to some extent. And the navy, and also the army, had started a rather remarkable program where they decided that they, that it was going to be a long war; the predictions were that the war would extend at least to 1948, and of course it stopped in ’45 after the nuclear weapons were dropped. But in any case, they had a program where they gave a test, a national test, several hundred, more than a hundred, two hundred high school seniors took the test and if you got above a certain level, you were admitted to this college training program from… then you were destined to go to midshipman school briefly. But they also had a provision if in your first year of college, which I was, then you could, if your grades were a high standard and you were physically okay, you could go in the program.

So when I was 17, I went into the navy and went into this college program and then eventually went to midshipman school, and then I was commissioned as a line officer and I was assigned to several amphibious ships, but I did nothing heroic. And as a matter of fact when I was watching this, the television program that’s on nightly now, Ken Burns' program on the war, I’m... you know, it's sort of all very familiar. I can name all the guns, the airplanes, you know, and  I knew what the divisions… the military divisions where doing. But there is, I think, people like myself who got into, you know, who went into the military and didn't see that kind of action, there's always a funny kind of regret which I still have, you know, it's what, 60 years or so later on. And… but in any case, so, it did have the advantage that I didn't get killed or wounded or traumatized very much, but I must say I… I enjoyed… I liked the navy. I liked going to sea, I liked the equipment, you know, we had, I ended up... I was the executive officer, that's the second in command, of one ship and I was captain of another one for a short time. You just suddenly realize, I've got this big yacht with a bunch of people who, you know, mostly do what I tell them to, and you can order all the equipment you need. You can only go where they tell you, but, and standing top deck watches, that, you know, the way ships are handled, and I think still now, there is an officer on the bridge, that's the… called top watch, if you're in charge. Now the officer on the bridge may be a junior officer, but he's in command during the period that he is on the bridge and there's a… great sense of what’s, well, confidence you know when you… I was… good, I was not a bad navigator and I was pretty good on piloting, you know, that's navigating when you're near shore. I wasn't a very good ship handler, you know, that is bringing a dock along… a ship along dock and so forth, but the kinds of ships that I were on were very difficult to handle. They were very underpowered, single screw in some cases, and that were really hard to— and that's another one of my regrets, by the way, that I was never a very good boat hand. I'm still not, with my own motorboat. So that was, and I had, I made many of my friends that I still have who - well had, they're beginning to die now - who I met when I was in the navy. They were were really a wonderful bunch of friends and very good people.

Well, you know, it’s something very topical now, they're talking about the GI Bill. So, well the GI Bill at that time changed my generation and it, I think, made a big contribution to the prosperity of the country. Because you had your full tuition paid, and you could then pay for your books and you got a stipend and pay for your lodging and all. And it was, so, people who would never have thought of being able to go to university, college, or for their… also you could do job training, did that. It made our generation and that’s… and now they're talking about doing… about doing something similar but nothing like as… as generous, but a lot more generous than there’s been before. I hope that… I hope that passes, it would make a big difference in our economy in years to come.

American research physician Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011) was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 along with D Carleton Gajdusek for their work on the origins and spread of infectious viral diseases that led to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus. Blumberg’s work covered many areas including clinical research, epidemiology, virology, genetics and anthropology.

Listeners: Rebecca Blanchard

Dr Rebecca Blanchard is Director of Clinical Pharmacology at Merck & Co., Inc. in Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Her education includes a BSc in Pharmacy from Albany College of Pharmacy and a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. While at Utah, she studied in the laboratories of Dr Raymond Galinsky and Dr Michael Franklin with an emphasis on drug metabolism pathways. After receiving her PhD, Dr Blanchard completed postdoctoral studies with Dr Richard Weinshilboum at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on human pharmacogenetics. While at Mayo, she cloned the human sulfotransferase gene SULT1A1 and identified and functionally characterized common genetic polymorphisms in the SULT1A1 gene. From 1998 to 2004 Dr Blanchard was an Assistant Professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. In 2005 she joined the Clinical Pharmacology Department at Merck & Co., Inc. where her work today continues in the early and late development of several novel drugs. At Merck, she has contributed as Clinical Pharmacology Representative on CGRP, Renin, Losartan, Lurasidone and TRPV1 programs and serves as chair of the TRPV1 development team. Dr Blanchard is also Co-chair of the Neurology Pharmacogenomics Working Group at Merck. Nationally, she has served the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics on the Strategic Task Force and the Board of Directors. Dr Blanchard has also served on NIH study sections, and several Foundation Scientific Advisory Boards.

Tags: World War II

Duration: 6 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 28 September 2009