On paper, the young Mary Radia appears to have been in a hurry. Dissuaded from her initial goal of pursuing veterinary medicine “because city girls couldn’t be veterinarians,” she enrolled at Drake University after graduating from high school a semester early and pivoted her interest in biomedical sciences to pharmacy. She met her husband, Suku Radia, one of her brother’s dorm-mates at Iowa State University, when she was 16; the two married when she was 18, during her sophomore year.
As she was completing her Drake degree, Norman Kladstrup, registrar at the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery, now DMU, and a member of her church, learned she had a 4.0 grade point in pharmacy and told her she should apply to the college. In 1978 she began what was then the college’s three-year osteopathic medicine program, becoming class secretary and an anatomy teaching assistant. She graduated in 1981 as one of two Graduates of Distinction.
Radia went on to establish a distinguished career as a rheumatologist, most recently with Iowa Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center in Urbandale, one of the largest rheumatology groups in the country. She retired in 2021.
“Pharmacy gave me a great background not only in pharmacology and medicine, but also in counseling patients,” she says. “The missing link is that I didn’t know how to make a diagnosis. I wanted to use my pharmacological background, and I thought rheumatology was a great way to do that.”
There was one activity in which Radia decidedly was not in a hurry – she loved learning about her patients, many of whom she served long-term.
“She was always very personally engaged with her patients. She knew their spouses, their kids and grandkids, and they knew her very well,” says Mark Burdt, D.O.’93, one of her colleagues at Iowa Arthritis. He met Radia when he was an internal medicine resident in Des Moines and she was on the teaching staff. “She joked her patient visits were more like social visits. She is a very good osteopathic physician in that regard.”
Radia also used her medical and pharmacological knowledge to perform clinical trial research on new treatment options that might benefit her patients. She taught medical students and residents at central Iowa’s Mercy and UnityPoint health systems and at DMU. She volunteered for efforts that served younger students, too, including as a member of and donor to the Women’s Leadership Connection of United Way of Central Iowa. Now called Women United, the group raises funds to support a variety of programs and strategies that promote safe, enriching environments for young children and build their early literacy skills to help them succeed in school. A lifelong lover of pets, from dogs and rats to a parrot and monkeys, she joined the board of Des Moines’ Blank Park Zoo this summer.
In addition, Radia has served both her alma maters as a member of the boards at DMU and Drake. She joined the DMU Board of Trustees in 2011, chaired its academic affairs committee from 2013 to 2015 and was elected board secretary in 2016, a role she continues to serve.
“As physicians, it can be hard to give back to the community with our schedules. I appreciate being able to help the University by serving on the board,” she says. She and her husband are generous DMU supporters as well, including as members of the Founders Society, which recognizes donors with cumulative lifetime giving of $100,000 and more.
She recalls attending lectures as a COMS student in the former chapel of the old St. Joseph’s Academy, which the college took over in 1972, and marvels at the progress on DMU’s new campus in West Des Moines.
“What President Franklin is doing and how she’s brought the campus community along with her vision is very exciting,” she says.