Roger Ruckman

Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics

Roger Norris Ruckman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1944. His father, a World War II naval intelligence officer by day and law student by night, received his J.D. in patent law from the George Washington University. His father was then recruited to work for the Dupont Company, and thus the family moved to Wilmington, Delaware. Ruckman enjoyed his childhood in Wilmington, where he recalls playing sports, touring the scenic countryside, and riding his bicycle all over the city.

Given the large influence of the chemical industry in Wilmington, Ruckman initially pursued a physics degree as an undergraduate. He chose to attend Williams College in Massachusetts for its beautiful country setting, its excellent teaching, its focus on undergraduate students, and its competitive sports. He played for both the varsity tennis and squash teams throughout his undergraduate years. Despite his initial interests in the chemical industry, by his senior year, Ruckman shifted course and completed a degree in Chemistry with the intention to pursue a career in medicine.

Immediately after completing his bachelor’s degree, Ruckman entered into the rigorous world of medical school at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville. Once again drawn to the countryside and the reputable instruction of the institution, Ruckman recalls Virginia as a terrific school peopled with both wonderful teachers and students. Despite the challenges he faced – often working grueling 40-50 hour stretches at a time and memorizing incredible amounts of information – he excelled and enjoyed the overall experience.

The University of Virginia had an excellent cardiology program which became formative in his decision to enter the field as a resident. For his intern year, Ruckman was elected to work at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston in the field of Pathology. He credits this year to his decision to specialize in pediatric as opposed to adult cardiology. For him, the potential for meaningful cardiac therapy for children was the more promising, interesting, and positive field. However, prior to finishing his residency, Dr. Ruckman served as a Captain in the U.S. Army Medical Core for three years, completing a tour of duty in Seoul, Korea and a year at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington. His contract complete, Dr. Ruckman resumed the final stages of his medical training and finished his residency in pediatrics at the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont in Burlington. He then returned to Boston where he graduated from a cardiology fellowship at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

At the time he finished his fellowship, there were few positions available in the field of pediatric cardiology. Initially he worked at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. However, with family roots in the Mid Atlantic region, he happily joined the staff at Children’s National Medical Center, the pediatric arm of the George Washington University, when a position opened up. He recalls that the hospital at the time was progressive and held a lot of promise for the field. Despite his love for rolling country hills and the natural environment, Ruckman’s commitment to his profession, one localized primarily in major metropolitan centers, kept him in the District.  

As a practitioner, he found great fulfillment in not only patient care but also in teaching and research.  For him, teaching was beneficial for his students as well as for his own practice. For example, he credits his early years as a pediatric resident mentor for the insights that this experience provided into the realities of general pediatric care. These insights became pivotal to his later daily collaborative work with pediatricians as a cardiologist. Furthermore, working with such intelligent students across various levels of training and experience challenged him to “keep sharp“ and current on all aspects of the field. He also greatly enjoyed witnessing students’ development at all levels.

In addition to instructing GWU medical students, residents, and fellows and providing patient care, he also ran a research laboratory, which investigated cardiac embryology, specifically the things that impact the development of the heart and cause the heart to form abnormally. His initial research into teratogens, environmental factors that adversely impact the development of the heart, evidenced abnormal embryonic cardiac development due to alcohol, thus mapping out medical understandings of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Additionally, over the course of his career, the field experienced great advances in interventional procedures due to technological developments. These exciting technologies further fueled his research and allowed him to develop impactful therapies, such as echocardiographic assisted balloon atrial septostomy, which eliminated patient radiology exposure from the standard procedure and allowed cardiologist to perform the procedure at the bedside. His paper, “Echocardiographic Assisted Balloon Atrial Septostomy,” published in the journal Pediatrics, was praised for the monumental advance this  therapy contributed to the field.

Dr. Ruckman also served in various administrative positions in addition to his research, teaching, and practice. He was appointed as the Medical Director for Children’s Regional Outpatient Centers, which provided greater access for patients outside of the District. In this role, Dr. Ruckman developed a broad network of centers in a 125 mile radius of the hospital. With varying degrees of sophistication, these centers provided broad ranging services, including comprehensive radiology testing and surgery, and dramatically increased the hospitals reach and patient population.

Despite tremendous dedication to his field, Dr. Ruckman has always been a proud father and family man. He advises all physicians and students to attempt to create a healthy work-life balance and to follow their passions wherever they may lead. As an example of these two goals, he remembers that during his training in Boston, his daughter was born with congenital heart disease. Because of recently developed medical technology, she was able to undergo procedures that enabled her to live a full and rich life. This trying family experience gave Dr. Ruckman the insight, empathy, and passion to help other families with children in similar situations. In the future, Dr. Ruckman looks forward to traveling with his wife, enjoying the wealth of art, music, and basketball in the District, exercising, and spending time with his four very musically talented children.

B.S., Williams College
M.D., University of Virginia School of Medicine