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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Debra G. Perina, M.D.

Picture of Debra G. Perina
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Debra G. Perina, M.D.

“In emergency medicine, we are treating people at some of the worst moments of their lives. One of my greatest satisfactions is being part of a team that gives emergency patients what they need and puts them on the road to recovery.”


Virgil H. Goode, Jr.



Debra Perina grew up with a love of science, a desire to help people and parents who were influential role models. Her father, who was a coal miner in West Virginia and an early leader of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), instilled in her a deep commitment to the values of helping the community and the needy.

"Both my parents, but particularly my father, were always talking about how important it is to help people and to give back to others," she recalled. She has carried this lesson with her throughout a career that has taken her from respiratory therapist to leadership as one of the nation's top emergency medicine physicians and educators.

As Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Virginia, Perina has built a national reputation for leadership, mentoring and training in emergency medicine. But she almost didn't become a physician.

She was a respiratory therapist working in Virginia in the early 1970s when a local fire department chief told her she could never be a paramedic in his department's training program because she was a woman. That errant remark was the initial spark to her now-successful history in emergency services.

But it wasn't until she was working as associate director of the Respiratory Therapy Department at Frederick (MD) Memorial Hospital and a staff physician further encouraged her that she quit her job and began working part-time in order to attend graduate school to gain the necessary credits she needed – and that would convince – a medical school to accept her.

Nominated as a Local Legend by Virgil H. Goode, Jr. (R-VA-5th), Perina is the former EMS Medical Director for South Carolina, where she led the building of the state's highly acclaimed emergency medicine program.

She is the recipient of the South Carolina Medical Control Physician of the Year award (1989), given to an EMS medical director who has made significant contributions, and the 2004 recipient of the American College of Emergency Physicians National Emergency Medicine Faculty Teaching Award.

As an RRC-EM Representative Member, she has furthered the goals of the EM Core Content Revision Task Force I, which helps set training standards in emergency medicine, and has served on the Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors (CORD) since 1991–including being its elected president from 2001 to 2003.

Perina serves her community as a volunteer medical examiner and is medical director for the local rescue squad.

"Emergency medicine is challenging, but also satisfying," she says. "Like every other part of medicine, we're asked to do more with less these days. In the emergency room, we're the safety net and we see it all. There's a saying that the emergency room is a microcosm of society, and that's true. But the most rewarding aspect of my career is going to work every day and trying to help.

"And the second piece for me is passing on what I know–teaching and training physicians, first responders, emergency room nurses, and students. It's what I love to do."



Appointed to the South Carolina College of Emergency Physicians; served as President, 1991-1993


Appointed to the Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors (CORD); served as President 2001-2003


Appointed Director, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), State of South Carolina


Appointed Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA


Medical Director, Pegasus Critical Care Transport Program, University of Virginia Health Sciences System


Appointed Residency Review Committee-Emergency Medicine Representative Member, Emergency Medicine Core Content Revision Task Force I and II


Appointed EMS Fellowship Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Virginia




West Virginia University School of Medicine, Morgantown, WV


Emergency Medicine