Link: University of Iowa

Information About

Alumni Interview

David Carmichael, M.D.


(46MD, 49BA)

What is your hometown?

I was born and raised in Santa Ana, California.

What is your official title?

I’m a cardiologist and while mostly retired, I still maintain a clinical professorship at University of California at San Diego.

How/when did you become interested in science and medicine?

I graduated from Graceland University with academic distinction, and I knew that I wanted to be a scientist but didn’t know yet that I wanted to be a doctor. I was and still am fundamentally a competitor, and the toughest thing in didactics at that time was science.  Physical science was exploding, and I wanted to be a part of that explosion and my focus shifted to medicine.  I knew I wasn’t good with my hands and I wouldn’t be adept at becoming a surgeon and even then you could see that surgery was becoming more and more micro and would continue to do so.  I was better with my brain.  Internal medicine is really a fascinating field – and from there I became interested in Cardiology. 

What interested you to pursue a career in medicine and medical education?

I became a cardiologist because of my internship in Cincinnati. There was an extremely competent civilian cardiologist, who kept his clinical professorship, and on two days of each month he would have a clinic in which he invited all the civilian cardiologists to bring any interesting cases they had, and house staff was invited.

On this one day that stands out in my life, I was able to get time to go to this conference. Outside the conference room where all the physicians were, there was a little girl sitting on a stool with her mother sitting on a chair next to her. The doctors had all examined this little girl and then gone into the conference room to discuss, and I was a little late, and the last one to examine her. Since I'm fairly tall, I put my hand on her shoulder when I leaned down to listen to her heart. When listened, all I heard were perfectly normal sounds. I asked the mother why they were here and she said, "They're going to do surgery on her – there's some abnormal vessel." I listened again and couldn't hear anything, but as soon as I took my hand off of her shoulder, I heard it – a venous hum.

When I went in the conference room all of the physicians were discussing the diagnosis and everyone thought it was a Patent Ductus, but I got it right! Thank goodness I had put my hand on her neck! It was such a great experience. I walked in a normal man, but walked out a Cardiologist and never looked back.

Please highlight your major career achievements, awards, discoveries, etc.

I made AOA as a junior, and graduated 1st in my class. I've served as a diplomate on the American Board of Internal Medicine and a Clinical and Research fellow at Massachusetts General in Boston. I worked with U.S. Naval Hospitals in the Orient, on a Hospital Ship, and the U.S. as well as Veteran's Administration Hospitals. I was Chief of the Department of Medicine at Scripps Memorial Hospital, and the founding Medical Director of the Cardiovascular Institute there, as well as a tour as Chief of Staff.

I received the Distinguished Service Award from Graceland University and remain very active with that institution. I am a Master with the American College of Physicians and also the American College of Cardiology. I am also a member of the American College of Chest Physicians, the American Heart Association, and the American Medical Association where I have served in many different capacities.

My military medical service had a huge influence on my life. While not discussed much in this interview, war dominated much of our lives in the 1940's and 1950's and it changed us all. Carver graduates of the current era will face challenges that combat engenders, and my long service as a Naval physician made a great impact on me.

Is there a teacher, mentor or UI Carver College of Medicine faculty member who has helped shape your education?

Three young faculty - Clark Millikan (44R-Neurology), Don Chapman (37BS, 39MD, 44R-Internal Medicine), T. Lyle Carr (46R-Internal Medicien) in pulmonary medicine had a big influence on me. I was an athlete, number one in tennis at Graceland, and had been a softball pitcher. I was a Phi Beta Pi and we had a softball team, and we played the house staff team. I played a one or two hitter and they recruited me to play ball with them. This way I got to know all of the house staff very well.

Oakdale prison also had a team, and we played them. My first time pitching against them I hit the first 3 prisoners – I was as wild as a March hare – at about 70mph. I remember thinking that I had to be really careful because they could be out to get me and might track me down! I got my control back and finished the game, and they didn't run me out of town.

Millford Barnes, the Chairman of Public Health, I remember with great respect. DDT was brand new, and he was given the opportunity to leave the faculty and join the Public Health Service. He felt there was the opportunity to completely rid the world of malaria if he joined the PHS. Here was a man that was willing to give up his career to do something on an international basis, and I've always remembered that.

In Cincinnati, William Bennett Bean became a good friend. He had what was called the "spider group", which was a group of students that went looking for vascular spiders of the skin. He had broadcast that if anyone could find someone with one below the waist, he would take them out to a full dinner with all the trimmings. I was making $15 a month, so this was a big incentive! While I was at Cincinnati General, he'd call me up and ask me to play a set or two of tennis and I got to know him very well and really respect him. Dr. Bean and my respected friend, Dr. Paul Seebohm, moved to Iowa where they have been marvelous teachers of Iowa students.

These friends and faculty members were very important to me because there was a very great difference in the medical school of that day as compared to this day.

How or why did you choose the University of Iowa for your education and medical training?

In the first place, getting in was tough. There had been no out of state students taken from 1928 until I was taken.  When I came up from Graceland I had a strong academic background, and when I decided I really wanted to be a doctor I applied.  The biggest impact on my acceptance was the Dean - someone we all feared -  Ewen MacEwen (12MD, 15MS).  He was a Scot and so was I, and while I had the grades to get in, I was out of state.  He told me, “I just can’t take you, your family doesn’t pay taxes in the state of Iowa, but I’d love to have you – just can’t do it.”  I told him that I really wanted to come to Iowa.  He told me that if I could show him evidence that I was accepted somewhere else he might be able to work something out. So I applied and was accepted to both Stanford and Washington University, and sent him copies of my acceptance.  He said, “I think I can swing it now”, but he told me I had to make my grades the very best, because people were putting pressure on him for accepting an out of state.

I got in, and loved it. It was hard work, but I loved it.

What still resonates with you today about your training at Iowa?

I have nothing but huge respect for this medical school. I've been involved in education all over the country – I've seen the best. Iowa is solid. It's honorable. The administration of the medical school has always been very generous in letting people who have extra skills go ahead and pursue their field. Their selection process is good and they don't stand in anybody's way if that individual has some level of brilliance they might not get to exercise in another place. The graduates that come out of here have seemed to me all along to be very honorable people. Iowa kids and Midwestern kids are pretty good individuals, and you get good doctors out of this school.

What are some of your outside interests?

I love to fly and became a pilot, and wrote a book on private aviation.  My wife flew in three of the powder puff derbies.  My two favorite airplanes are the Aztec from Piper and the Golden Eagle from Cessna.  I have flown all over the Western Hemisphere.  I used to fly from La Jolla to Imperial Valley to see patients, and in various consulting and academic pursuits the plane was great help.

Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your professional work?

I always tried to choose for my associates someone who is as smart or smarter than I am, and is willing to work as hard as or harder than I am willing to work.

This country, with its Judeo-Christian heritage, gives to the vast majority the opportunity to serve and often, the chance to excel. The guidance of parents and instructors should never be forgotten, nor should the sacrifices of those who have allowed us to preserve our freedom.

If you could change one thing about the health care system in the United States, what would it be?

To make quality medical care available and affordable to all.

What are the biggest changes you've experienced in medicine since you were a student?

There were 75 graduates when I left medical school, and only three were women.  The rest of us were white American males – there was absolutely no diversity to speak of.  The school was very rigid, and if you flunked a single course you were dropped.  We started with about 100 students.  No electives at all, strictly in the pipeline to be produced as a physician.

We also had no vacations or breaks.  We started school in early 1943 and the draft was in effect and the war was on, and we all joined either the Army or Navy (or at least those that could pass the physical). I joined the Navy along with about ten others, the rest went Army. 

What advice would you give to today's medical students?

Never turn down an opportunity, but look it over very very carefully to make sure it’s a real opportunity and not just a facade. 


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