AOC Alumni Spotlight
We want to celebrate alumni from all walks of life who have interesting experiences to share with the community in their personal, political, and/or professional lives. This Q&A format feature will include both standard questions and questions specific to each featured alum. Want to recommend yourself or a friend for this spotlight? Submit your nomination here.
Dr. Ruth Perry ’78 is currently a practicing physician with CityMD in New York City. Prior to joining CityMD, she served in various executive leadership roles at Big Heart Technologies, the Trenton Health Team (THT), and the Rohm & Haas Company. Dr. Perry is board certified in Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine and holds degrees from Swarthmore College and Temple University School of Medicine. She is a classical music pianist and an avid supporter of the cultural arts, loves to travel and photograph her experiences. She is mother of two adult daughters, Kendall and Courtney Walton.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m a native Philadelphian, a physician board certified in emergency medicine and internal medicine, and a mother of two adult daughters, Kendall Taylor Walton, age 31, and Courtney Eleanor Walton, age 29. I love gardening, and I love music.
Tell me more about your passion for gardening. How did you get into it?
My mother was the youngest of nine children. My Aunt Helen lived in the same house where my mother and all her siblings were raised. They would grow crops and flowers atop the hill behind the house. As a little girl I was amazed by the beauty and diversity of the gardens, so I would ask to take a flower with me when I left her house.
As a child, I spent my summers with Aunt Helen. Every evening she would ask, “What do you want to eat for dinner?” I would tell her and she would say, “Okay, let’s go up the hill and pick it.” Corn, potatoes, string beans, tomatoes — you name it, it was in the garden.
As a result of these experiences I had an early sense of where food came from and how the earth can actually sustain us. It was always a fascination, but that’s where it started. As a teenager, I grew houseplants, and once I became an adult and had my own homes I grew vegetables and flowers. If I touched it, it grew.
Can you tell me a little bit more about what you do?
I have had a mix of clinical jobs and administrative jobs. I was an ER physician at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia when I finished my residency. I was there for seven years and was an Associate Professor of Medicine at Temple University Medical School (my alma mater).
I had my daughters while I was working in the ER. One day, my oldest daughter, Kendall, asked, “So, Mommy, are you going to go work in the day and sleep in the night, or work in the night and sleep in the day?” I was amazed by her observation as she was only 3 years old. So I thought it was time to make a change.
The Rohm and Haas Company was recruiting a medical director for their Bristol site and I was the successful candidate for the role. I thought that I would be there for five years, but five turned into 17. In the process, I learned a lot about business. I like to say that I received the poor woman’s MBA from that experience. After 17 years, Rohm and Haas was acquired by The Dow Chemical Company in 2009. They wanted me to join the company but that meant relocating to Midland, Mich., which held no appeal. Plus, I’m an only child, and both my parents were in assisted living. I decided to retire and take time off, because I had never taken any time off.
I spent time with both my parents and traveled before they died in 2010. After that, there was an opening in Trenton, New Jersey, with the Trenton Health Team, which is a community health improvement organization, that evolved into an Accountable Care Organization serving the Medicaid population as part of a New Jersey State Demonstration Project. I became the Executive Director and grew the organization from one employee to 16 employees and secured over $12 million in funding over four and a half years. We developed some very innovative programs in those four years. However, to become an accountable care organization, you have to have the insurance payers involved. They were very interested in learning from us, but they didn’t want to commit in full. You can’t really have an accountable care organization if the payer doesn’t want to be involved. So I decided that I had accomplished everything that I wanted to do and chose to retire again and take a little time off.
In July, 2016 I accepted a role in New York City and moved to Jersey City, NJ. I currently work for CityMD, the largest urgent care group in New York City. We provide some primary care, and ER-type work to adults and children. I started there in April of 2019, and practiced through New York City’s COVID-19 crisis. It is unbelievable to me and my friends that I would practice medicine in a pandemic this late in my medical career.
My friend, May Thomas, MD, Swarthmore (Class of ’76) said, “Ruth, so how does it feel finishing up your career in the middle of a pandemic?” I said, “If someone had told me that, I would never have believed it.” But I’m blessed that I did it, because I needed a way to channel my anger with how this has been handled politically. And I said, “You know, instead of complaining, ranting, and raving, and whining — and I really like to whine — I might as well go out there, be a part of it, and try to help the people as best as I can.”
New York went into lockdown in March, and it was a ghost city. You have no idea. Native New Yorkers repeatedly said, “this is not New York!” You could go to Madison Square Garden, or 42nd Street, or the theater district, and see nothing. No lights, no noise, and no people. It was eerie. It was just eerie. Usually, I work in Lower Manhattan, but they sent me up to Central Harlem during the lockdown. As we have come to learn, COVID-19 hit people of color so very hard. Every morning there were people lined up in front of and around the corner of our West 146th Street site waiting to be seen and receive care. Many patients walked in with low oxygen saturations. Oxygen saturations between 96% to 100% would be considered normal. There were many patients with oxygen saturations of 91%, 88%, 84%, 77%, and their chest x-rays revealed the ground glass appearance of lungs consistent with COVID-19 pneumonia. Some x-rays showed the lungs almost whited out, case after case, after case, after case.
What keeps you up at night?
Right now, our national politics keep me up at night, or if not keeping me up at night, gives me mental churn. The negative discourse or lack of discourse, the eroding of democracy, the blatant racism and misogyny – that keeps me up at night. Other than that, thinking about my kids might keep me up, especially when they were younger or trying to solve a professional or personal problem.
What are you nerdy about?
I guess within my passions and interests, I’d have to say I can be nerdy about everything. I can’t say it’s just one thing that I’m nerdy about. I could see something, read something, or hear something, and if I don’t know what it is, I’ll go look it up and dig into it a bit.
I saw an article containing some new information they uncovered about Stonehenge not too long ago which piqued my interest. I know very little about archeology, but I love history and always wanted to see Stonehenge. I have always been in awe of how early people moved and erected these massive stones and wondered about their symbolism and use. Several years ago I was in the British Virgin Islands and asked about a tree that looked a lot like a crabapple tree. I learned that this was the Manchineel Tree. Every aspect of the tree is poisonous to humans. Apparently Christopher Columbus’ crew found this out the hard way. When I returned home I had to read all about this tree which does not wish to be disturbed.
Working in the midst of the pandemic and not contracting COVID-19. My significant other has not caught COVID nor my two daughters. I’m profoundly grateful and happy about that. This pandemic has really forced us to be happy with simple things, like our health. My significant other and I started playing board games, ones I haven’t played since childhood, like Monopoly. That has been a lot of fun and that is good. Very good.