Alumni Q&A: Professor Dale Abel (Jamaica & Green 1986)
Q: Has your career trajectory panned out as you planned?
A: “That’s a big question! When I was at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, I didn’t have anything planned out, but the Rhodes Scholarship created a lot of opportunities and opened a lot of doors. I trained as a medic at the University of the West Indies. Just prior to my enrolment there, my parents emigrated to the USA, meaning that I obtained a green card meaning that I was eligible for permanent residency in the US. I therefore knew that I would complete my clinical training in America after I completed by DPhil in Oxford. My Oxford mentor Professor John Ledingham was aware of my long-term plans and he introduced me to the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford at the time, Sir David Weatherall, who had professional medical contacts in the states. Their generosity therefore opened doors that enabled me access a great medicine residency programme at Northwestern University.”
Q: What’s been the best lesson you have ever learned?
A: “As a mentor, if you really take a deep and personal interest in the welfare of your mentees, that will breed a level of loyalty not only to you but to your strategic mission as a group. That collective loyalty will ultimately reap rewards far beyond what you could have anticipated.
I also think the importance of ‘paying it forward’ has stayed with me. Many members of the Rhodes community will understand this - we have all had wonderful opportunities to advance ourselves, but the value of your life is amplified when you are you are using the opportunities you are given to amplify opportunities for others.”
Q: Who inspires you and why?
A: “The kinds of people who inspire me are those individuals who have a deep sense of humility despite amazing achievements, but who remain true to their roots. There are many people I can think of who would fit this rubric, but in general terms, I’m inspired by people who have never really had an easy life but seize every opportunity that has been presented to them.
I’ve been fortunate over the years to have wonderful mentors, who have supported my life and career. Dr James Gavin in particular, who I met because I was part of a faculty development programme for individuals historically under-represented in medicine, that was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It wasn’t just a financial resource, it provided access to an incredible panel of medical leaders – who would pick up the phone if they knew it was you calling!
Academic medicine is competitive and political, and you have to know how to navigate that (and there aren’t any classes or seminars in school to help you). Those mentors helped me to navigate the field of academic medicine and carve out my career path.”
Q: Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?
A: “I’m a leader in academic medicine in the US, currently serving as Chair of one of the largest Departments of Medicine in the country. I am also the current president of the Association of Professors of Medicine. Part of my role as Chair of Medicine in the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, involves providing my team with an institutional and organisational vision. On a personal level, I remain active in research, leading a programme that is focused on the cardiovascular complications of diabetes. Other passions include being a clinical teacher and working with trainees.”
Q: What was your Rhodes Scholar experience like?
A: “The first three to four months at Oxford were an adjustment period – it was a bit of a shock, weatherwise! I remember the first day the sun came out in Oxford and everyone was suddenly outside with their t-shirts off!
I appreciated the generosity of my Oxford mentors, the warm welcome from Rhodes House, and the comradery of other Scholars. I met my wife in Oxford, which was a high point! She’s British and it was interesting to learn about British culture through her. We actually met because we both went to the same church at Oxford called Oxford Community Church, and she was training at the Radcliffe Infirmary as a nurse - people always assume we met on the wards.”
Q: What’s something other Rhodes alumni might not know about you (but would like to)?
A: “I’m a photography buff. I love nature and landscape photography. My wife and I enjoy meeting and immersing ourselves in other cultures. We enjoy travelling – the year before the pandemic we managed to visit all five continents. At the end of the year we visited Africa on safari. Anything travel or photography related gives me a tremendous amount of joy.” Second, my wife, now of 33 years and I welcomed our first grandchild 7 months ago!
Dr E Dale Abel is an endocrinologist who is the William S. Adams Distinguished Professor of Medicine, and Chair and Executive Medical Director of Department of Medicine David Geffen School of Medicine, and UCLA Health. He previously held the John B. Stokes III Chair in Diabetes Research and the François M. Abboud Chair in Internal Medicine at the Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa. He is a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Physicians a former President of the Endocrine Society and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine.