Dr. Judith Ann Pachciarz

First Deaf person to earn a Ph.D and an M.D.

    First Deaf person to earn a Ph.D and an M.D.

While watching Nyle DiMarco win ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and then go on to win ‘Dancing With the Stars’  (good grief!), I started wondering how many “firsts” from the Deaf Community I may not have read about. So I did some Googling and found some interesting stories. This one is about Dr. Pachciarz, the first Deaf person , male or female, to earn a Ph.D.  AND an M.D.


As a young student, Judith Pachciarz, M.D., was told that a deaf girl had little chance of becoming a doctor. One high school instructor tried to prevent her from taking chemistry, claiming deafness would somehow cause her to knock over lab chemicals. Yet despite objections from many around her, and after being rejected by many of the schools she applied to, she has built a rewarding and successful career as the first profoundly deaf woman physician practicing in the United States.

Judith Pachciarz lost her hearing when she was 2 years old after suffering from encephalomeningitis, an inflammation of the brain which can cause extensive nerve damage. She grew up in Danville, Illinois, always attending schools with hearing students and taking lip reading classes at the same time. She was inspired to pursue a career in medicine after reading about Elizabeth Blackwell and Marie Curie. Shrugging off the low expectations of those around her, Pachciarz sat at the front of the class to lip read and took her studies very seriously. After graduating seventh in her high school class of eighty-four, she majored in microbiology and zoology at University of Illinois, taking the pre-medicine curriculum. She earned a master of science degree at the University of Illinios in 1965 and a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology at St. Louis University in 1971. New federal legislation prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities (section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) brought national attention to previous bad practices while promoting equal access. Pachciarz was teaching veterinary science at the University of Kentucky from 1974 to 1979 and was encouraged to pursue her earlier idea of a career in medicine.

In 1979, Pachciarz enrolled in the University of Louisville School of Medicine. The development of telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD), and the support of her colleagues allowed her to study alongside hearing students. She borrowed class notes from friends, and students in the bioengineering department modified an oscilloscope for her so she could ‘see’ heart and lung sounds instead of listening for them with a stethescope.

After graduating in 1983, Dr. Pachciarz was chief resident in pathology for five years. She completed a fellowship in transfusion medicine and blood banking, and was laboratory director of a small county laboratory. She is currently a hospital pathologist and director of the blood transfusion service at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles.

Dr. Pachciarz enjoys having a role in patient care as well as teaching medical students, and with her background in microbiology is also keen to keep on with her own research. Her current interests include quality assurance in transfusion devices, trauma blood procurement, and the diagnosis of malaria using hemograms. Dr. Pachciarz was medical director of the World Games for the Deaf in the Los Angeles area in 1985, supervising three hundred medical volunteers over ten sites. In all aspects of her work she has made a special effort to mentor people with disabilities and to provide them with the support and enthusiasm that she was often denied as a young student. Her advice to everyone is to never assume that a “disabled” person can’t do what anyone else can do.


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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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