Mabel Purkerson, MD

Mabel Louise Purkerson was born April 3, 1931 in Goldville, South Carolina. She graduated from Erskine College in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree and earned her medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston in 1956. She completed a pediatric residency and a fellowship in pediatric metabolism at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

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Purkerson’s research focus was renal physiology, notably kidney pathophysiology and pathophysiology of acute and chronic renal failure utilizing experimental models of renal disease.

Purkerson was appointed to the Washington University faculty in 1961 as an instructor of pediatrics. Following an advanced traineeship in the renal division of the Department of Medicine, she was appointed instructor of medicine in 1966 and advanced to assistant professor of medicine in 1967. Purkerson was chief of nephrology on the Washington University Medical Service at John Cochran Veterans Administration Medical Center (1973-76). She served as associate professor and professor of medicine before becoming professor emerita in 1998.

Her administrative appointments at Washington University School of Medicine included associate dean for curriculum and associate dean for academic projects. In 1976, Purkerson became the first woman to serve on the dean’s staff in the School of Medicine.

For more than 40 years, Mabel Louise Purkerson contributed to the university as a clinician, teacher, investigator and administrator. Dedicated to medicine, she personified the physician/scientist role: leading by example, focusing on excellence, always open to new opportunities and techniques. Before the work was common, she adopted an interdisciplinary approach to cross-departmental boundaries in the application of new strategies and tools to further her research. This approach allowed her to make substantial contributions in the field of renal physiology. Not surprisingly, these achievements led to her becoming the first woman full professor in the Department of Medicine.

As associate dean for curriculum, Purkerson counseled generations of students as they planned for their medical careers. Assuming a mentorship role, Purkerson also founded and served as president of Women in Nephrology, a group associated with the American Society of Nephrology. Still thriving, this organization has the goal of promoting collegiality among the Society’s female members and providing informal mentorship to more junior members.

Ever an advocate for the institution, Purkerson is using her retirement to acquire research materials for a book: The History of Washington University School of Medicine in the 20th Century. This knowledgeable, conversant, adventurous, cultured woman will sure be an important part of it.