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Dr. Wayne J. Riley was first influenced by his father, Dr. Emile
Edward Riley, who was a surgeon, to pursue a career in medicine.
Before deciding to follow in his father's footsteps as a physician,
Dr. Riley spent a few years working for the mayor's office in his
hometown of New Orleans and where he pursued and received a
Master's degree in public health from Tulane University School of
Public Health and Tropical Medicine. "Working in government gave me
a broad perspective in terms of the professional world. Once I
decided that I wanted to go to medical school, I did not have any
conflicting emotions as to what I really wanted to do. I knew that
going into medicine was the answer."
Dr. Riley received his Doctor of Medicine from Morehouse School
of Medicine in Atlanta. He realized that his favorite part of
medical school was getting the opportunity to interact and build a
strong bond with patients. "I discovered that many of the
internists that I encountered were the smartest, sharpest,
friendliest and most compassionate doctors that I met in medical
school and that made me realize that I wanted to pursue internal
medicine as a career path."
One of Dr. Riley's mentors, Dr. Louis Sullivan, President of
Morehouse School of Medicine, and a renowned anthropologist, who
later became Secretary of Health and Human Services under President
George H. W. Bush, had a major impact on Dr. Riley's choice to
pursue internal medicine and leadership in academic medicine. "Dr.
Sullivan took me under his tutelage and mentorship and he remains a
great mentor to this day."
Dr. Riley completed his residency in internal medicine at Baylor
College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. While in his second year of
residency, Dr. Riley became involved with ACP and was elected to
ACP's Council of Associates. He later served as Vice Chair of the
Council of Associates and is the first member of the Council of
Associates to be elected to the Board of Regents, a position which
he still holds today. "Being involved in an organization like ACP
is a great way to improve yourself and to contribute to a greater
After his residency, he began his career in academic internal
medicine when he was offered a position at Baylor as Instructor in
Medicine which he gladly accepted. He jokingly refers to his first
teaching position as a "grunt academic general internist" where he
enjoyed the chance to see patients as well as give lectures to
students and serve as an attending physician for internal medicine
housestaff. "I really loved academic general internal medicine
because it combined what I loved most: patient care and
A lifelong teacher
Dr. Riley continued his career in academic medicine at Baylor
College of Medicine, working his way up from an Assistant
Instructor in Medicine to Assistant Dean for Medical Education, and
then on to Vice President and Vice Dean for Health Affairs and
Governmental relations. "I had no idea when I started at Baylor
that I would become involved in medical education and ultimately
become President of an academic science center-- all I wanted to be
was a good academic general internist."
In 2007, Dr. Riley became president of Meharry Medical College,
the nation's largest predominately African American academic health
science center and also his father's alma mater. He is in charge of
overseeing Meharry's School of Medicine, School of Dentistry, and
School of Graduate Studies and Research. Dr. Riley's schedule is
often hectic but he finds the position extremely rewarding. "I
really enjoy being able to affect the educational process of more
than 900 students who are studying medicine, dentistry and public
health and medical science. It is very satisfying to know that some
of the meetings and decisions that I am involved with everyday help
to expand the pool and the diversity of the nation's health care
Dr. Riley encourages medical students to explore the
possibilities that a career in internal medicine offers. "Internal
medicine allows physicians the ability to be involved not only with
patient care but with health care policy, health disparities,
women's health and a variety of other issues that are closely
aligned with internal medicine. I think it is a great field in
which to spend your life in medicine."
Making a Difference in Health Care
Dr. Riley's interest in health care disparities and health care
reform has been a career-long passion. While working at Ben Taub
General Hospital in Houston, the teaching hospital associated with
Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Riley developed an interest in
health care disparities. Working with indigent and uninsured
patients allowed him to understand the barriers that exist in the
U.S health care system. "The United States has the best health care
in the world, but it has some major inequalities. Taking care of
the under-insured and indigent patients really did open my mind to
the inequalities in the health care system."
Dr. Riley's passion for health disparities and health care
reform has not gone unnoticed. In 1998, Dr. Riley was appointed by
the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
to the National Institute (NIH) of Health's National Advisory
Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities. As Chair, he
collaborates with other members of the panel to help better
coordinate the federal government's involvement in research policy
for programs in minority health and health disparities. The council
meets three times a year to discuss how the government can improve
care for all Americans, especially those who are underserved.
Dr. Riley is pleased with the advances in health care reform and
looks forward to improvements to the U.S. health care system in the
future. "It is a very exciting time in health care reform and it
will be interesting to see how the reforms of the Affordable Care
Act are implemented over the next 10 to 20 years."
Outside of his career, Dr. Riley enjoys playing golf, reading
and spending time with his wife Dr. Charlene M. Dewey, FACP and
their two daughters: fourteen year old Elizabeth and nine year old
Dr. Riley delivered the key note address "Health Disparity and Inequity in the Era of Health
Reform: Why Internal Medicine Must Lead the Way" at Internal
September 2012 Issue of IMpact
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