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Dr. Patricia Molina
Dr. Patricia Molina was the first Hispanic female and the 88th president of the American Physiological Society – one of the nation's oldest and largest scientific societies. Having completed her term as President, Dr. Molina is currently serving a one-year term as Past-President, a position on the Society’s Executive Council.

She was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, the smallest country in the Americas, to a Mexican father and a Palestinian mother.

"I attended the American School, because my father believed that being bilingual would open so many more doors in my professional future. But I also attended the Alliance Francaise, ballet academy, art and cooking school, swimming and tennis lessons, and weekly calligraphy tutoring, because my mother wanted me to be fit to marry royalty!"

The cultural dichotomy of expectations according to gender was palpable.

“But clearly, for my parents, education was the only thing no one can take from you, " notes Dr. Molina. “As a junior in high school, I spent a year in Baton Rouge, LA, where I had my first taste of American life as an exchange student in a program called Youth for Understanding. I was the first student from that program to ever come to a southern state. Looking back, it could have been a sign of my future path. After returning to El Salvador to complete high school in the American School, I faced the political turmoil of the mid-70s, a period when the only medical school in our country was occupied by guerrillas, and the assassination of one of the deans made it impossible for me to pursue my dream of medical school in my native country.”


Faced with this challenge, her parents tried to dissuade her from pursuing medical school. She refused to give up her dream, and eventually they facilitated the path to enrollment in the Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala City.

Since kindergarten, Dr. Molina's dream had been to be a pediatrician, and she was sure nothing could stand in the way.

But, as it has been said, life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. In medical school, she befriended a classmate.

"He became my soul mate, and I married him a year before completing medical school," says Dr. Molina. "We had our first son, a few months after completing medical school. Although my husband seamlessly progressed to a residency program in medicine, I was faced with the dilemma of having a child, a MD degree, and no earthly idea of how to balance these roles. I decided that residency in pediatrics was not compatible with my own standards as a mother. I contemplated a residency in ophthalmology but decided against it when I reckoned that I would not be able to manage the underlying diseases leading to eye pathology. I briefly considered dermatology but was discouraged when I got a better sense of the principal pathology seen at the dermatology hospital in Guatemala. Without professional mentoring and guidance to balance out the strong message from both parents and in-laws to 'be happy — you have already achieved so much, you have a degree, a husband, a beautiful child, what more can you want?' I settled into motherhood for almost 10 months.”
Go Red for Women Day
Patricia Molina's classmates had other ideas, though. They knew how hard she had worked to pursue her dream, and they decided to take things into their own hands.

They alerted the faculty at the medical school that she was home playing mom and not planning to pursue her career. That led to a call from the director for the research unit at the Universidad Francisco Marroquin with an offer for a two-hour-a-day job to work with medical students in their dissertation research projects. Dr. Molina thought that was a good compromise, so she accepted.

Dr. Molina soon learned that little could be accomplished in two hours and that completing medical school had taught her little about research. This realization led her to explore new possibilities that culminated in a move to the U.S. to pursue a PhD in physiology, an adventure facilitated by her colleague Dr. Lucrecia Anzueto, who had already initiated her graduate studies.

"Initially at the University of South Alabama, recruited by Neil Granger into Aubrey Taylor's Department of Physiology, I discovered a world of science I did not even know existed," says Dr. Molina. "It was humbling to learn how much I did not know, despite the fact that I was already an MD! How could it be possible that there was so much more to know than what I thought I already had learned in medical school? That was the beginning of a scientific journey I would have never dreamt of! A year later, when my husband joined Tulane to do his residency training, I transferred to the Department of Physiology at LSU in New Orleans, where I completed my PhD in physiology under the mentorship of John Spitzer, Chuck Lang, and Greg Bagby. My graduate work focused on understanding the impact of alcohol on carbohydrate metabolism during sepsis."

After completing her PhD, Dr. Molina joined Naji Abumrad’s laboratory in the Division of Surgical Research at Vanderbilt University and switched research focus from carbohydrate to protein metabolism and from sepsis to insulin-induced hypoglycemia. His lab had identified that insulin-induced hypoglycemia leads to increased gut proteolysis. Her work focused on understanding the role of the brain in mediating this response. She moved to SUNY Stony Brook with Abumrad when he was recruited to chair the Department of Surgery and became his scientific partner by helping establish his lab and running his projects.
Signing historic agreement with Cuba
"I did not know anything about establishing scientific independence at that time," she recalls. "However, my time working with him provided me with exceptional opportunities for growth, development, and eventually (without realizing it) establishing my independent research career. A few years later, my husband and I returned to New Orleans, a city we had loved during our training. For approximately 2 years, I commuted to New York to run studies and meet with the lab still at Brookhaven every other week. The rest of the time, I worked from my den, and on Mondays I came to LSU to participate in research seminars. LSU had a hiring freeze that precluded John Spitzer from hiring me at that time. The unfortunate and tragic accident that led to the death of Alistair Burns was the pivotal event that led to my joining the LSU physiology faculty in 1999." She was appointed Associate Professor and rose through the academic ranks.
Hurricane Katrina
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore east of New Orleans. What followed was the failure of the federal floodwalls leading to unprecedented catastrophic flooding.

“The initial response was disbelief, followed by relief based on our safety and that of those around us, including colleagues, students, and staff,” remembers Dr. Molina.

Meanwhile, LSU Health Sciences Center was working to resume operations in borrowed space in Baton Rouge.

"During our evacuation, following the initial period of grieving and acceptance of the idea of what had occurred, came a period of uncertainty and speculation on what the future held for us. Our laboratory was affected significantly. The loss of biological samples collected from our studies and the loss of reagents and valuable productive time made a huge dent in our ability to maintain our level of productivity.”
APS stepped up in a big way. “Once the losses of our students and colleagues were recognized, APS provided monetary support for affected trainees in the area to help subsidize replacement of a computer or simply buy clothes to wear until they could return to their homes. In addition, for the first year after the hurricane, APS provided support for invited speakers to visit our campus, meet with our trainees and colleagues, and confirm that there was a network of physiologists looking after their own! It was then that I made the commitment to give back to the Society to the extent of my capabilities! No one knew how much more I would receive from APS! I hope my story reflects what we are capable of achieving with hard work, inquisitiveness, flexibility, good mentors, and a desire to progress.”
APS female presidents