Steve Perry, D.O.’78, credits a serendipitous set of events and connections that paved his path to the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery (COMS), now DMU. After he’d earned his undergraduate degree and was applying to “a bunch” of medical schools, he worked at an osteopathic hospital in Grand Rapids, MI, performing autopsies, drawing blood and working in the lab. In conversations with a secretary about his medical school aspirations, she mentioned her friend, Dr. Patricia Cottrille, who happened to be associate dean for student affairs and coordinator of clinical affairs at COMS and the wife of its president, Leonard Azneer, Ph.D.
Dr. Perry also found out that one of the hospital physicians, Robert Harrison, D.O.’51, was president of the COMS Board of Trustees.
“I was in a bowling league with him every week. He said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to go to medical school?’” Dr. Perry recalls.
When President Azneer and Dr. Cottrille came to Grand Rapids for an osteopathic event, Dr. Harrison arranged for them to meet with Dr. Perry at the hospital. “Dr. Azneer absolutely drilled me for the next 45 minutes. I was sweating through my clothes,” he says.
He survived the drilling and started classes at COMS on June 6, 1975, in its then-three-year osteopathic program. The college had relocated from downtown Des Moines to a former Catholic girls’ school on Grand Avenue barely three years earlier. “The anatomy lab was not air-conditioned, and, boy, did it stink,” he says.
Dr. Perry went on to be a member of the first class of D.O.s to be accepted in an emergency medicine residency, in Grand Rapids. “There were only three of us,” he says. “It was the right time to get into that fledging residency. But I had doctors who literally refused to speak to me.”
He practiced in emergency medicine in Michigan and served as a residency director for 10 years. Recently retired, he recalls going to the downtown Des Moines YMCA every day to swim as a way to manage the stress of medical school. He remembers Bernard TePoorten, D.O., FAAO, chair of the osteopathic manual medicine program, beginning every class with the greeting, “ALOHA.” Dr. Perry also well remembers his COMS classmates, who will celebrate their 40-year reunion at DMU May 23-25.
“What stands out to me was the camaraderie I developed with some of my classmates, especially the guys from Iowa,” he says. “The osteopathic schools held basketball tournaments – that was a kind of camaraderie, too. And to think – what if I had not had that very fortunate experience of working with that hospital secretary?”