Alumni Spotlight: Med School Professor Is Authority on Bioethics

Ronald Domen

Ronald Domen

Ronald Domen MD, ’72 AB in Pre-Med

Dr. Ronald Domen’s dreams of a medical career began with childhood visits to his family doctor. He never envisioned then that he would become a medical school professor and a nationally recognized authority on bioethics.

Domen is a professor of pathology, medicine and humanities at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine and has been teaching and researching for more than 30 years.

“Research and teaching were the furthest things from my mind in med school. The idea was to go back to Warren and open a family practice,” said Domen.

The ’72 alumnus was a first-generation college student when he started at YSU. His dad, a self-taught electrician, mother, who stayed home to raise children, brother and Domen lived in Warren on a tight budget, and Domen worked odd jobs from a young age, eventually finding a position as an orderly at Trumbull Memorial Hospital during college.

“I worked in the operating room on day shift and had YSU classes at night, or worked the evening shift on the wards and had classes during the day – whatever it took,” said Domen.

From a great study abroad opportunity at YSU, Domen entered medical school at the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara in Mexico, graduating with his MD in 1975. He then completed his internal medicine residency in Cleveland and went on for clinical pathology training at Ohio State University.

“I was at OSU when I realized I wanted to stay in academic medicine,” said Domen. “I was teaching residents and med students, I had great teachers and mentors, I liked doing research – everything just came to a head.”

From Guadalajara to the Cleveland Clinic, where he was appointed to the ethics committee in the 90s, to his work at Penn State, Domen has always found a particular academic interest in bioethics. He is a leader in developing an ethical framework in the field of transfusion medicine.

“The thinking not too long ago was that blood donation is a simple, benign procedure,” explained Domen, “but there are potential risks and complications in donating blood. To me, it’s an ethical question if we are not informing donors to the best of our ability.”

His study on informed consent of blood donors was published and resulted in an invited presentation in front of the Food and Drug Administration, which later made advisements based on his findings. Subspecializing in transfusion medicine, clinical pathology and transplant immunology, Domen has been invited around the country to speak on bioethics.

Domen is medical director of the histocompatibility laboratory at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, overseeing the human leukocyte antigen testing of bone marrow and solid organ donors and recipients to ensure compatible transplants. He also practices transfusion medicine and recently stepped down after eight years as Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education, where he oversaw 58 residency and fellowship programs. Domen is currently working on a second edition of his book, titled Ethical Issues in Transfusion Medicine, as well as other clinical research projects and creative pieces – areas he’s also published in. In addition, he serves on committees in several national professional organizations.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would end up here,” said Domen. “It wouldn’t have been possible without Youngstown State. It was the one and only option available to me after high school, and what a gem it turned out to be.”

Domen resides in Hershey, Pa., with his wife, Kate. They have two adult children, a son and daughter.

(Previously Published in YSU Magazine, Fall 2013)