Director of Clinical Development, Population Council
Favorite professor: “Gail Molloy, my dissertation chair, who really got me to think out of the box. Her theory class brought many ‘aha’s’.”
Adelphi memories: “The quality of the education was very high. My class on the Philosophy of Science has served me well for conducting research and integrating basic principles of ethics and science into my work.”
Advice for nursing students: “Believe in yourself and know that you can be a leader in your profession. But first get your clinical experience, develop expertise in something you are passionate about, find a good mentor and keep learning. Never doubt that nursing can open doors to anything you want to do.”
Dr. Merkatz was drawn to the Population Council’s work after visiting Uganda on a 2005 educational mission on HIV and social justice. She did this with Case Western Reserve University, where she earned her master’s degree in nursing. Prior to that personal “sabbatical,” she served for eight years as Director, Team Leader for the women’s health division of Pfizer, Inc and developed national programs to raise awareness of serious health conditions that affect women. This opportunity followed a six year term at the Food and Drug Administration in Washington DC.
Recruited in 1991, just one year after she received her Ph.D. at Adelphi, Dr. Merkatz became the first head of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Women’s Health. Her six-year term in Washington was highlighted by two major issues: breast implant safety and the struggle to include women in clinical drug trials.
“This was the early 1990s, and many women’s health issues were still light-years behind the times,” she says. “We were able to suspend marketing of implants that had never been tested adequately for safety and efficacy, and in 1993 we lifted the ban that had prevented women with child-bearing potential from being included in most clinical drug trials. The HIV/AIDs epidemic, which was escalating rapidly in women, brought to light the injustices of excluding women and the paucity of science when it came to understanding how drugs work in women. I have no doubt that my Adelphi doctoral education fortified me with the background and resolve (moxie) to bring about change that has made a difference. I consider myself very lucky to have had this opportunity.”
Prior to her public service at the FDA, Dr. Merkatz held various nursing positions at the Jack D. Weiler Hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center, University Hospitals of Cleveland, and The New York Hospital. She also taught at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing and Lehman College.
Ruth recounts that she and her children moved many times in response to her husband’s medical career, and even spent two years in Europe while he was stationed with the U.S. Army. “My husband and I have always been a team, both in our work and with our family, and I couldn’t have succeeded without his support,” she says. “We have always shared in each other’s careers and aspirations.”
Dr. Merkatz also credits her father with being a strong influence on her life. A general practitioner, she often accompanied him on his “calls.” At a very young age I was exposed to a diversity of needs in health care and the “art of caring” for people of all backgrounds.
“My career has not been traditional,” she says. “I’ve never tired of individual patient care, but jumped at opportunities to expand my reach as a nurse.”