Richard Starr Ross


Honorary Degree (1981)
Doctor of Science
Location: Indianapolis
Presenter: John William Ryan


Richard Starr Ross is well known for his many outstanding contributions to the medical profession in general and to cardiology in particular. Born on January 18, 1924, in Richmond, Indiana, he graduated from high school in 1942 and went on to Harvard for undergraduate studies. Two years later he entered Harvard Medical School, receiving his M.D. degree cum laude in 1947. Richard Ross served a one-year internship at The Johns Hopkins Hospital before joining the army medical corps as a captain. He served with the 1st Arctic Test Detachment and in the Far East Command. Following his discharge from the army in 1951, Richard Ross returned to Johns Hopkins to complete his medical residency. From 1952-53, he was a fellow in physiology at Harvard, after which he returned to Baltimore as chief medical resident on the staff of the Osler Medical Service of The Johns Hopkins University Hospital, the institution with which he remained associated until his retirement in 1990.

As a clinician-scientist-teacher, Dr. Ross has been instrumental in a number of key areas of research, particularly in the fields of coronary cineangiography, myocardial blood flow, and myocardial performance as affected by coronary disease. He directed the Wellcome Research Laboratory at Johns Hopkins, in which scientists developed several novel methods of examining and treating heart conditions. In the 1960s, they developed coronary cineangiography, a process of studying dynamic movements of the heart using cine film. A technique of measuring myocardial blood flow with radioactive gas injected selectively into the coronary arteries also originated from the lab. This method permits the study of the effects of myocardial ischemia on myocardial blood flow and the action of antianginal agents such as nitroglycerin.

Another major area of interest for Dr. Ross was the study of the relationship between coronary anatomy and prognosis in coronary artery disease. In addition, Dr. Ross sought to develop procedures for the evaluation of surgical intervention in the treatment of coronary artery disease. He has, for example, helped organize a systemized evaluation of the use of coronary bypass surgery in the emergency management of unstable angina pectoris. A particular testament to his expertise came when he was asked to be one of three physicians to evaluate whether President Nixon was well enough to testify during the Watergate trials.

Much of his work has been published. As of 1981, Dr. Ross had either authored or coauthored over 130 articles for medical journals and textbooks concerned with various aspects of cardiovascular physiology and disease. He was one of the editors of the Modern Edition of the standard medical textbook, The Principles and Practice of Medicine.

His extensive research and publications should not, however, obscure the substantial and simultaneous teaching and administrative duties, which Dr. Ross has undertaken through the years. Initially appointed as assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University in 1954, Dr. Ross became an associate professor in 1959, and a professor in 1965. He was appointed director of the Cardiovascular Division of the Department of Medicine in 1961, and from 1967-1975, he served as director of the Myocardial Infarction Research Unit. In 1975 he was named vice-president for Medicine and dean of the Medical Faculty. As dean of the medical school from 1975 to 1990, the second longest tenure in the school's history, he oversaw substantial growth of the faculty and research funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Ross holds membership in many medical associations, and he has been particularly active in the affairs of the American Heart Association. He has served as chairman of its Scientific Sessions Program Committee and the Publications Committee, and as president of the Association in 1973-74. His service to the profession at the national level also includes work on many advisory groups to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. In 1972 he was appointed chairman of the Heart and Vascular Disease Panel, and in 1974 to the advisory council of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

These can only serve as examples of the enormous work Dr. Ross has accomplished as a physician, cardiologist, teacher, and administrator. His stature in the profession is evident from his appointment as chairman of the Overseer's Committee for Harvard Medical School, just one of the many honors bestowed upon him. In 1969 he was named The Clayton Professor of Cardiovascular Disease at Johns Hopkins. In 1976, the American Heart Association honored Dr. Ross with the Gold Medal Award, and then in 1982, presented him with the James B. Herrick Award. He delivered the Sir Thomas Lewis lecture to the British Cardiac Society, and also delivered the Conner Lecture at the American Heart Association in 1979. As well, he was invited to lecture at Stanford University.

Johns Hopkins has honored Dr. Richard Ross in several ways. The Richard S. Ross Clinician Scientist Award was created in his honor; a $98 million research building was dedicated as the Ross Research Building; and most recently, on April 27, 2005, he received one of the highest awards the university can bestow. The University President's Medal was given in recognition of Dr. Ross's distinguished career in medicine and extraordinary contributions to higher education, patient care and public health. It was presented to him by Johns Hopkins University President William R. Brody, M.D., Ph.D. This medal is an honor extended by the university to individuals who have achieved unusual distinction, and is done so at the discretion of the university president.