Dr. Richard S. Ross, an innovative cardiologist and medical school dean who encouraged prospective doctors to pursue broader undergraduate education, and who earlier had the distinction of examining Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate investigation, died on Tuesday at his home in Baltimore. He was 91.
The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, his son, Richard, said.
As dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine from 1975 to 1990, Dr. Ross expanded the curriculum and eliminated the requirement that applicants take the standardized Medical College Admission Test. It was his way, he explained, to counter the trend “toward early specialization and overemphasis on science as preparation for medicine.”
(The requirement was reinstated in 1999 when Johns Hopkins joined an admissions processing service that uses a common application.)
To raise money for hiring staff and supporting research, Dr. Ross imposed a “dean’s tax” on the clinical faculty’s billings for medical procedures and other outside income, ensuring a steady, discretionary revenue source.
As a cardiologist, he pioneered methods of measuring blood flow and taking moving images of the heart. He was also a former president of the American Heart Association.
Dr. Ross was one of three physicians recruited in 1974 by Chief Judge John J. Sirica of United States District Court in Washington to verify former President Nixon’s claim that he was too ill to testify during the Watergate investigation. Nixon had resigned from office in August of that year.
Nixon was discharged from Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in California that November after an operation to prevent further damage from blood clots. He was scheduled to be interviewed at his California home by the three doctors.
“We decided it was a foregone conclusion that we would recommend against travel to Washington so soon after this major illness,” Dr. Ross recalled in an article for the American Clinical and Climatological Association. “However, we saw no course open to us but to go ahead with the plan to examine the records and to visit Mr. Nixon at San Clemente.”
“He seemed more ill and weak than one might have expected a month after an operation,” Dr. Ross wrote.
The former president joked “about the physicians and the tortures he had been subjected to” at the hospital, and blamed his near-fatal phlebitis on having sat through daily eight-hour nuclear arms negotiations with the Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev.
“It was clear that Mr. Nixon was not currently able to travel back to Washington for a court appearance,” Dr. Ross concluded.
In his book “In the Arena,” Mr. Nixon, who lived for another 20 years after the examination, provided his own account of the visit: “Each took turns poking and pinching and pulling and doing other things that doctors do during an examination. One was obviously a little embarrassed by the whole exercise, but the other two seemed to enjoy their work.”
He did not specify which role Dr. Ross played.
Richard Starr Ross was born in Richmond, Ind., on Jan. 18, 1924. His father, Louis, was a doctor. His mother, the former Margaret Grubbs Starr, graduated from Vassar College.
Dr. Ross entered Harvard as an undergraduate in 1942 and received his medical degree in an accelerated program in 1947. He served in the Army Medical Corps during the Korean War and returned in 1953 to Hopkins, where he had interned, as a chief medical resident. He remained there for the rest of his career.
In addition to his son, Dr. Ross is survived by his wife, the former Elizabeth McCracken; two daughters, Deborah Chambliss and Margaret Ross; and five grandchildren.