Alumni Profile: Nicholas J. Ruggiero, II, MD '01
New Alumni Association President
Nicholas J. Ruggiero, II, MD ’01, has been fraternizing with Jefferson alumni since he was a child growing up in West Pittston, Pennsylvania. His father, Nicholas J. Ruggiero, MD ’66, hosted the annual Wyoming Valley Alumni dinners in Wilkes-Barre.
“The thing that always amazed me was how excited people got to interact with fellow Jeffersonians,” Ruggiero says. “And also how proud people were to be Jeffersonians.”
As the new SKMC Alumni Association president, Ruggiero would like to reinforce and reignite that feeling he witnessed in Jefferson alumni. This has involved a bit of restructuring to engage more active alumni around the country in organizing local events, as well as representing their regions at executive board meetings and national specialty meetings.
“My goal is that when we come out of this restructuring, which we would hopefully have done by early 2019, we can rebuild and redevelop these local alumni pods, if you will, to increase people’s enthusiasm and increase people’s love and connection to Jefferson in that way,” he says.
He would also like to reinstate old alumni traditions such as an alumni mentoring program for students, and include student members on alumni committees. “We are going to do things to try and strengthen those relationships,” he says, “to let the students know that the alumni are there for them, and alumni will be there to help them grow in their professional careers.”
Ruggiero, associate professor of medicine at SKMC and director of Structural Heart Disease and Non-Coronary Interventions and the Jefferson Heart Institute Vascular Laboratory, was primed for a medical career by those early positive interactions with Jefferson alumni, which include an uncle and a cousin. His dad was the most powerful influence and a role model for a great physician. He used to bring young Ruggiero with him on house calls, where the boy learned “how to have compassion and treat every patient as you would want a family member treated.”
Ruggiero also had another life-changing experience at the age of 12 that opened his eyes to medicine—as a patient. He broke his femur during a basketball game, which led to a diagnosis of a bone tumor just above his knee. He was told he would have to lose the leg, but the family got a second opinion at Children’s National Medical Center, where a doctor said he could save the leg, and did so after multiple surgeries.
“There’s no better way of becoming a doctor than being a patient,” Ruggiero says. “When it’s your rear end hanging out of the gown, it gives you a really good understanding of things.”
Once he had settled on becoming a doctor, there was no question where he would attend medical school. “We are a pretty tried-and-true Jefferson family. And my father was the most dedicated Jeffersonian there is; of anybody who bled black and blue, it was him.”
Ruggiero was set on specializing in orthopaedic surgery, but during his four years of medical school, he realized he wanted to focus on a cardiac field, like his father. He stayed on at Jefferson for a residency in internal medicine, served as chief medical resident for a year, and then completed a general cardiology fellowship in 2008. He proudly points out, “My father and I were the first father-son fellows who graduated from the same program in the same department. He finished I think in 1971 or ’72.”
Ruggiero then went to Boston for two interventional cardiology fellowships at Harvard Mass General Hospital, and in 2010 he brought back to Jefferson the skills he’d learned there—including coronary and peripheral stenting, transcatheter aortic valve replacement, and transcatheter mitral valve repair.
“My job is to do all the procedures on the heart that before required open surgical procedures,” Ruggiero says. “So catheter-based approaches like replacing the aortic valve, repairing the mitral valve, or closing holes in patients who were born with holes in the heart. One of my colleague says it’s sort of high-tech interior design.” Among his other roles, Ruggiero is also associate program director for the cardiology fellowship.
When Ruggiero isn’t treating patients, saving lives, and revitalizing the Jefferson alumni community, he likes to spend his scant free time with his family. “My wife and my three-and-a-half-year-old are the be-all and end-all,” he says. In addition to playing with dolls and watching Disney movies with them every chance he gets, his hobbies include playing golf and making wine.
“One of my patients actually had a bobblehead made of me listening to a wine barrel,” he says, “because he knows that I like to make my own wine.” This gesture underscores how much Ruggiero’s patients appreciate the earliest lessons he learned from his father, as a patient, and as a Jefferson medical student.
“I think that the big thing that we all love about Jefferson is that, even though we’re extremely progressive and we’re doing a diversity of things, we still have a firm hold on the clinical values that we were taught as medical students here,” Ruggiero says. “It’s that each patient is treated as a patient, as a family member and not a disease or a number or a procedure, and we make sure that we continue that philosophy of medicine that sees care with caring as the most important thing.”