Kenneth Dretchen Retires

Posted in GUMC Stories

June 28, 2016–In so many ways, Kenneth Dretchen, PhD, has been in the right place at the right time. The place is Georgetown University Medical Center, and the time spanned from 1972 to June 30, 2016, when he officially retired from the organization and the mission that he has been devoted to — although he isn’t leaving. More on that later.

Dretchen, professor and chairman of the departments of pharmacology and physiology, fit so well into GUMC because he is an admitted “networky” kind of guy. And during his 44 years at GUMC, Dretchen has experienced the morphing of universities and medical schools, medical education, pharma and government from self-involved silos to a much more interactive community that seeks to work with each other.

One-on-one teaching

Take his first love at Georgetown — teaching.

When Dretchen started teaching in 1972, most medical students took a premed curriculum as an undergraduate and then went directly into medical school. “It was almost as if it was a continuation of the fifth year of college,” Dretchen says.

“Now we have people who come in with diverse majors and backgrounds, including students who have been out in the work force,” he says. “I think that they come in much more worldly, collaborative, and intensely interested in medicine.”

“So it means that the teaching changes too,” Dretchen says. “In the past, it was all lectures; now there are small groups and small sessions where you can have interactions with students one-on-one,” he says. “It is much more personal and interactive now, which is a wonderful change. You can direct your teaching and the style in which you teach based on the strengths and weaknesses that you perceive in students as you meet with them.”

He also recalls that his first class of medical students was made up of 203 men and two women. His classes today — second and fourth year students— are now primarily female. So are the graduate courses he has long taught.

Dretchen also advises a dozen students “who come to me on a routine basis and we talk about issues, their goals and aspirations, their lives. It’s terrific.”

Dretchen’s students agree. He has won all the major teaching awards there are at Georgetown’s medical school — including the Golden Apple Award three times, voted on by class, and he was inducted into the the Magis Society of Teachers, which all students and faculty vote on.

“Vigorous” networking

As with other universities, Georgetown has changed over the past four decades, he adds.  Georgetown’s three branches— the main campus, the law center and the medical center/school — “were very discrete units when I came. There wasn’t much interaction between faculty members in these silos,” Dretchen says. “Now it is totally different. I commonly deal with colleagues from main campus departments, such as physics and biology, and have had a lot of collaborations with the Law Center.

These days, there is also a lot more interactions with the pharma and biotech industry and with government, he says.

Through his work on Georgetown’s program on regulatory science and the program on pharmacology, “I do a lot of networking in the industry and in the FDA because obviously we are trying to also find what we think would be the best opportunities for some of the students when they graduate,” Dretchen says.

On call to Homeland Security

Dretchen’s talent and interest in working with others has led to two decades of academic administrative positions at GUMC. This diverse work led to receipt of a Lifetime Contribution Award from Georgetown in 2016

Among his positions were Associate Dean for Graduate Education, Dean of Research and Graduate Education, and Interim Chief Operating Officer. He also worked with federal offices. As GUMC’s Senior Vice President for Regulatory Affairs, Dretchen had responsibility for all of the research activities going on at the Medical Center.

He was also referred to as the “Institutional Official” at Georgetown — Dretchen was the liaison from the university to all of the federal agencies that had control over any aspect dealing with research such as human research and animal research and research involving radioactive materials or the subject of his own research — chemical agents or biological agents.

Working with these agents led to even more collaborations with government. In 2003, Dretchen was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the National Biodefense Science Board. This 13-member committee reported to the White House through the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

“We informed the White House on chemical and biological threats and emerging infectious diseases and also dealt with H1N1 for the White House,” he says. For two years, Dretchen carried a Homeland Security beeper 24-7. He also played a role in developing a chemical warfare antidote kit that is carried by all soldiers in the field.

TV stays off

So what will Dretchen do after retirement? “I am not going to be sitting at home watching TV — that’s for sure,” he answers.

In fact, Dretchen will be making the same home-to-work and back again drive he has made for 44 years, just less frequently. He will continue teaching medical students but for free. “It’s what I love, so I am not inclined to stop,” Dretchen says. He will also do some consulting, will be more involved at his synagogue, and will be in contact with all the colleagues/friends he has amassed during his four decades at Georgetown.

No climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for him. “I am too busy,” he says.

Renee Twombly 
GUMC Communications