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54 Robert WoodJohnson
Robert Burke, MD '75, MPH:
A Special Love for Children with Special Needs
r. Burke reported that after being
a totally undistinguished student,
he graduated from St. Mary's High
School in Perth Amboy, then held sev-
eral dead-end jobs before taking a
position as an orderly at Perth Amboy
General Hospital. Two years later, he
joined the U.S. Army with the intent of
becoming a medic but, instead, was
assigned to the military police. Follow-
ing his discharge from the army, he
returned to the hospital and attended
Middlesex County College, later trans-
ferring to Rutgers, The State University
of New Jersey, in Newark. He applied
to 12 medical schools-- and promptly
received negative responses from 11.
Rutgers Medical School was the only
one to offer him any interviews. One
of those was with Robert Johnson,
MD, a family physician who had been
a U.S. Navy corpsman. Dr. Burke be-
lieves that, ultimately, this interview
was central to his acceptance. Never-
theless, months passed with no word
from the medical school. Then, unex-
pectedly one evening in late August, he
was contacted by Elizabeth Vale in the
admissions office at Rutgers Medical
School and offered a place in the
upcoming class-- entering in less than
two weeks. He enthusiastically accept-
ed the offer. That evening, he wrote
himself a note promising that when he
became a doctor, he would focus on
the needs of underprivileged children
and those with disabilities.
In their conversation at the Gala
(photo below), Dr. Burke (left) and
Dr. Porto (right), reminisced about the
medical school's excellent faculty. Dr.
Burke was inspired by the late
Christian Hansen, MD, professor of
pediatrics, a tireless advocate for the
health of impoverished children
worldwide, and the late Lawrence T.
Taft, MD, professor and chair, De-
partment of Pediatrics, who encour-
aged Dr. Burke's interest in pediatric
neurology, cerebral palsy, and devel-
opmental disabilities.
Dr. Burke received his master's in
medical science degree in 1973 and
continued at Rutgers Medical School
in its second four-year class, receiving
his doctor of medicine degree in 1975.
He began his residency at the Univer-
sity of Rochester but later returned to
this state to study genetics and birth
defects with Theodore Kushnick, MD,
at New Jersey Medical School. His in-
tention was to be better able to ad-
dress the needs of children with phys-
ical and developmental disabilities
and those with genetic disorders.
t the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School 2015
Scholarship Gala, a conversation developed between Robert
Burke, MD '75, MPH, and Manuel M. Porto, MD '75, about
their experiences in the Class of 1975 at Rutgers Medical
School. At one point, Dr. Burke said that his being accepted
to medical school was a miracle. What did that mean? He
later clarified this as he described the evolution of his medical
career over the last 40 years.