REUNION REFLECTIONS: Alumnus practices by his “Ruddism” that the patient is most important

Growing up in Houston, all Charles Rudd, D.O.’69, ever wanted to do was become a marine biologist and “live near and under the water.” As a biology major at Southern Nazarene University, however, he had a professor who talked him into taking the MCAT. He agreed but “didn’t really care” whether he did well on the exam. But he did, resulting in a call from the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery (COMS), now DMU, for an interview. He was accepted at COMS as well as at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri, but COMS’ location tipped the scales.

“Des Moines had all those insurance companies. My wife, Priscilla, could make a 10-key punch machine smoke,” he says. “She had an associate’s degree in business and could get a better job there.”

Charles Rudd, D.O.’69, practiced the “art of medicine” by always putting patients first.

The couple, who plan to come to Des Moines for Dr. Rudd’s 50-year reunion May 22-24, hooked up a three-by-four-foot trailer to their “beat-up old Porsche” and made the drive north. Mrs. Rudd indeed landed a job, first in insurance and then in the COMS business office. Her spouse found work, too, using his skills from a library job he’d had in high school to help organize the COMS library for $1.25 an hour.

“It was a mess,” he says.

Dr. Rudd says many of his classmates were older, having attended pharmacy school prior to COMS, but everyone “got along well for the most part.”

“I was considered a country bumpkin. There were only two members of the class from Texas,” he says. As far as academics, he adds, “It went from moments of ‘this is pretty neat’ to moments of stark terror.”

Dr. Rudd developed a style of practice that he stuck with throughout his career.

“I leaned more toward the art of medicine. Stuff counted when you walk into that exam room. I wanted to look at that patient so that I could relate to them,” he says. “I’m a firm believer in talking to the patient first. My ‘Ruddism’ is that when a doctor and a patient are in an exam room, the most important person is the patient.”

During a rotation at Des Moines General Hospital, as the “low man on the totem pole,” Dr. Rudd says he “got to do it all.” That prepared him and classmate Jim La Rose, whom Dr. Rudd recalls as “top in our class all four years,” for internships in Tulsa, OK, working 24 hours on, 12 hours off.

“My wife figured I was making 32 cents an hour,” he says.

After completing a senior internship on a Native American reservation in Oklahoma, Dr. Rudd joined a practice in San Antonio, TX, in the back of a drug store. Priscilla served as the receptionist, and his patients – all of whom spoke Spanish – paid $8 for a patient visit. He also practiced in occupational medicine for the U.S. Air Force, which sent him to school to become a flight surgeon. He and 12 other physicians used that knowledge and experience to form an emergency medicine group, for which he worked every other weekend in local emergency departments. Then his friend Dr. La Rose called.

“He found a practice in Houston he wanted us to buy together,” Dr. Rudd says. “We had a good practice because we kept our nose to the grindstone. We had a great system – we had nine exams rooms and hired nothing but the best staff, all cross-trained to do everything. The nurses made our job so much easier.

Dr. Rudd in Hickory Society mode

“By the end of my career, I was taking care of the grandkids of people I had started with as patients,” he adds.

Now retired, the Rudds enjoy taking “witness trips” with their church. In those travels to areas including in Mexico, Brazil, Portugal, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and along the Amazon River, Dr. Rudd sets up basic clinics. “People line up for blocks,” he says. “You know you’re doing good.”

He also enjoys golf as a member of the Society of Hickory Golfers, whose members preserve the history of the game by using wood shaft golf clubs and wearing traditional knickers and beanies. At a Hickory Classic two years ago in Des Moines, he came in third.

“I was the oldest man in the tournament,” he says.