True believer

Michael V. Drake, MD

Share this article

Raised in a medical household, President Michael V. Drake, MD, explains his views on the power of medicine and the land-grant mission.

I grew up in a medical household. My father finished his internship just days before I was born, and he set up a small office in our house where he saw patients even as he pursued further training and worked at a nearby hospital.

I learned firsthand about the healing power of medicine in those days: I developed allergic asthma and needed epinephrine shots on occasion. There was nothing subtle about it. One minute I couldn’t breathe, the next minute I could. It made me a believer.

In those days, medicine was more of a cottage industry. Doctors would graduate from medical school and hang up a shingle. In my father’s case it was literally a wooden placard, which I still have. The office was the back half of the house. The emergency room was in the kitchen.

My father finished residency a few years later and ultimately opened a series of proper offices where he worked until he was 91 years old. A few years after he closed the office, he hung his shingle—the same one—outside his house and saw a few patients a week in consultation until he passed away last year at 99.

Someone recently asked me if I always knew I would be a doctor, if it ran in the family. (My brother also became a physician.) When I was young, I thought briefly about other careers. I thought it would be exciting to make movies. It was the mid-1960s, and my family had moved to California. We had a little Kodak movie camera, and my friends and I wrote scripts and made a few short films.

But by the time I was 14 or 15, I knew what I was going to do when I grew up.

I had always enjoyed working with others, and I was fascinated by science. The ability to help people was a critical part of my interest in medicine, but I was also drawn to it as an intellectual pursuit, which later evolved into my research career.

As a practicing clinician and faculty member at the University of California at San Francisco, I had the opportunity to help advance the field. I worked with people with complicated health issues, and they would almost always get better. There was a daily validation of the power of medicine, the power of science and the importance of human interaction.

And I love teaching. I enjoy the time with students, building an intellectual connection and arriving at new knowledge. I appreciate that through teaching, the teacher also learns.

A similar reciprocal relationship exists between public research universities and the broader society. Public universities are wholly interactive with the community. This commitment to society is the DNA of our land-grant mission. Our main product is knowledge—transmitting knowledge to those we teach and creating knowledge for society, whether in the performing arts or the social sciences or through research and new technologies. Our mission is to share this knowledge. In return, we can see how we are touching lives and making the world a better place.

This year, many of Ohio State’s health sciences colleges are celebrating their centennial anniversaries. Think of the ways these colleges have impacted the community over the last century: medical breakthroughs, patents granted, books written, lives saved. We begin to see the power of our public research universities on a large scale.

And late this fall, we will open the new James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, the largest building project ever at Ohio State. It’s the perfect symbolic tribute to 100 years of service and a prelude to the next century of improving the lives of patients and their families in this region and beyond.

Several years ago, when I first transitioned from being a fulltime faculty member, a colleague asked, “Who is your boss?” He expected me to answer “the regents” or “the president,” but I said, a bit grandiosely perhaps, that I was working for anonymous people who benefited from the work we did with our research programs.

Years later, I was working on a rural research program in the health sciences. As a memento, a friend gave me a picture of a man tending crops in a field. The man’s head is down and you can’t see his face. I thought, “This is the person I’m working for—he’ll never know me, but whoever he is, wherever he is, if I am doing my work correctly, his life and the lives of his family will be better.” I’ve kept that picture on my wall ever since.

About the author

Michael V. Drake, MD
Michael V. Drake, MD -

Dr. Michael V. Drake began his tenure as Ohio State’s 15th president on June 30, 2014. An ophthalmologist by training, President Drake served as a university leader, professor and physician-scientist for more than three decades with the University of California system, most recently as chancellor of the University of California, Irvine.


Buckeye Voices — Commentary from The Ohio State University