Florence Rothenberg, MD, associate professor in the division of cardiovascular diseases, has always been fascinated by things she didn’t quite understand. Originally, her curiosity led her to forestry school. "Having grown up in the projects of Queens, New York, I understood very little about trees,” she says. Eventually falling into the field of cardiology, this physician scientist, who is very active at the Cincinnati Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, came to the University of Cincinnati in 2006, "by the promise of being able to practice medicine and do research,” she says, "and I have had the great privilege of doing both.”
What led you to medicine, and specifically, cardiology? "While obtaining my preliminary science credits at the State University of New York at Albany, I ended up working in a laboratory studying embryogenesis of the nervous system in crickets by failing my midterm exam. My dad underwent bypass surgery the night before my neurosciences midterm, and I failed the exam—true story. I did well on the makeup test and was asked to work in the lab of the professor who taught the class. I was hooked on science for the rest of my life.
"The idea that the brain could develop essentially normally in the majority of people despite its vastness and incredible complexity boggled my mind. A well-meaning family member suggested I get a medical degree as a ‘backup,’ in case I failed in science, and I balked. But I gave the idea considerable thought, and came to the conclusion that, armed with my scientific curiosity, I might someday make a contribution to medicine that would alleviate human suffering. I found my way to UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. During my training, I fell in love with cardiology. To me, the heart is dynamic, mysterious, complex and beautiful. To my nephrology friends, it is a pre-renal pump. Nonetheless, I never tired of thinking about the heart and how it works.
"During my residency in Dallas, I had both of my boys—a tremendous challenge before duty hours restrictions and without help. Despite that, they seem fairly well adjusted and happy now, or so they tell me. After my cardiology fellowship at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, I had the great privilege of being able to get back into the lab and studied the embryogenesis of the heart and cardiac conduction system for several years as a postdoctoral student at Case and then at Duke in North Carolina.”
What are some of your current projects? "My current research interest is in determining how to best manage critically ill patients who have elevated cardiac troponins and no prior or current coronary artery disease. There is evidence that this constitutes a large proportion of patients who are critically ill, and our data suggests that that treatment of these patients can significantly reduce their risk of death. I am also participating in a multicenter trial called MAVERIC. This trial will attempt to find out if we can reduce the incidence of contrast induced nephropathy (kidney damage) with saline as compared to N-acetylcysteine or sodium bicarbonate in patients who are at high risk for developing contrast induced nephropathy. My troponin work may take years to bear fruition as there are several steps I have to accomplish before I can perform a definitive prospective trial, but I am certain that the multicenter trials will show results sooner, and this keeps me moving forward.”
I know you have a special interest in mentoring young investigators and female cardiologists. What have you done to support this interest? "Being a woman in a career largely dominated by men, I have a keen interest in encouraging women to become cardiologists, if this is what interests them. I have had many opportunities to be discouraged, but my goal of being the mentor that I didn’t have when I was coming up keeps me moving forward. My main wish is to show women and men who choose cardiology as a career that there can be life balance. I belong to two organizations whose purpose is to develop the careers of young investigators in medicine and science, the American Federation for Medical Research and the Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research. These organizations provide a platform for motivated young investigators to learn how to present data and give presentations to other scientists and clinical investigators. It’s been an incredible experience that has taught me a lot, as well.”
When you’re not working, what do you do for fun? What is something interesting about you others may not know? "In my spare time I like to exercise, which includes walking or my own version of yoga. I spend as much time with my boys as they will allow, which is getting less and less now that they are 17 and 20 years old. I love to cook with them and make unusual or complex dishes. Mostly, though, we are too tired and end up watching our favorite ‘journalists,’ Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I have also become addicted to ‘Downton Abbey,’ thanks to my fiancé, Will, who loves most things British. I love to read, and have recently read ‘It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,' 'The Cuckoo's Calling,'and am reading a biography of Andrew Jackson.”