Dr. Ramirez helps chart path for clinical laboratory sciences students
by Tina LutherAs a child, Peter Ramirez, M.D., was fascinated with combining baking soda and vinegar to create foaming volcanoes in his parent's backyard. This same curiosity would later bear fruit for the budding physician scientist.
While in high school, Dr. Ramirez became interested in the field of medical laboratory technology after attending a presentation by college students on the subject. He later went on to earn an associate's degree in the field from Laredo Junior College. Soon thereafter, Dr. Ramirez entered a dual program in the field where he took classes at the UT Health Science Center and the University of Texas at San Antonio. He was part of the first class of an integrated medical technology program, now known as clinical laboratory sciences. In 1981, he earned his bachelor's degree summa cum laude. Soon after commencement, Dr. Ramirez worked for five years in the microbiology lab at University Hospital.
"As techs, we were directly in contact with residents, physicians and medical students," he said. "It was an exciting environment to be working in right out of college because of that interaction." His mentor, James Jorgensen, Ph.D., professor of pathology at the Health Science Center, noticed his keen skills and encouraged him to apply to medical school. To accomplish this goal, the hospital created a special shift for Dr. Ramirez so he could work and finish prerequisites. Subsequently, he donned a white coat as a member of the School of Medicine class of 1990 at the Health Science Center.
Getting back into the swing of studying was challenging for Dr. Ramirez, but his work experience would later prove to be valuable. Undecided about a specialization, Nan Clare, M.D., professor of pathology, suggested that he take a pathology elective in his fourth year.
"Once I rotated through the pathology department, I realized that was where I wanted to be," Dr. Ramirez said. "I loved it." Following medical school graduation, he completed a five-year pathology residency and a cytopathology fellowship at the Health Science Center.
Today, Dr. Ramirez is board certified in anatomic, clinical and cytopathology and practices with South Texas Pathology Associates in three hospitals of the Methodist Healthcare System. As a pathologist, he is on the frontlines of medicine. Physicians rely on his diagnoses to accurately treat patients. A large percentage of all medical diagnostic and treatment decisions made by physicians are based on laboratory results developed by a clinical laboratory sciences professional. Dr. Ramirez said his experience, combined with the hands-on work he achieves with technicians in the lab, continues to rank among the most satisfying aspects of his career.
In appreciation of his education, Dr. Ramirez helped establish the Clinical Laboratory Sciences Scholarship Endowment Fund at the Health Science Center in 2003. The scholarship has helped combat the shortage of clinical laboratory sciences professionals. According to a 2009 report from the American Society for Clinical Pathology, 13 percent of the workforce is likely to retire within the next five years and 67 percent of clinical laboratories cite increased competition for qualified staff as the chief hiring challenge. It has also eased the burden of student debt, as School of Health Profession's administrators report that 89 percent of current Health Science Center clinical laboratory sciences students require financial assistance. Since the fund's formal establishment, three scholarships have been awarded, ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 per recipient.
"It's vital to give back and help students get their education," he said. "I feel I was fortunate to obtain financial help via grants, scholarships and low-interest student loans. With today's economic climate, I feel it is very important to help provide deserving, needy students with financial aid from all sources to further their education. I feel that by contributing to this scholarship I am able to provide help that is greatly needed."
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