Career Tips From Female Physician Leaders

Stephanie Cajigal; Nancy W. Dickey, MD; Gail L. Rosseau, MD; Helena W. Rodbard, MD; Kimberly A. Skelding, MD


November 18, 2014

Medscape: Why did you choose medicine as a career and endocrinology specifically?

Dr Rodbard: When I was 12, my grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes, and I was the only brave soul in my household who would administer the insulin injections to her. Back then, insulin injections were very different from what they are now. This was back in the 1960s, when we had glass syringes and needles that needed to be sharpened; nothing was disposable. There were no pens, just vials. That is how I got interested at the early age in medicine and, specifically, endocrinology and diabetes.

Medscape: When did you immigrate from Brazil to the United States?

Dr Rodbard: 1975. It's hard to believe it's been 39 years. It was supposed to have been a 1-year fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and I ended up meeting my husband on my first day there. We got married a couple of years later. It was a very difficult decision for me, because I had not come here with the intention of staying. I wanted to go back to my family and serve my community. Retrospectively, it turned out to be the right decision. The professional and personal opportunities that I have here are unique.

Medscape: And it was just 5 years later when you sounded the alarm on two researchers for stealing your work. Can you tell us exactly what happened?

Dr Rodbard: I had been working at the NIH, and I ended up staying there for 4 years. At the diabetes branch, I studied insulin receptors in patients with anorexia nervosa. I submitted my paper to the New England Journal of Medicine. One of the referees accepted it, and the other recommended rejection.

Coincidentally, a manuscript on the same subject came to me for review. It had been written by Philip Felig, chairman of endocrinology at Yale, and one of his associates. Upon reading their paper, it became obvious that Felig was the referee who rejected my paper and plagiarized my data. Paragraphs had been copied verbatim. I exposed the fraud and Felig, who at that point had become chief of medicine at Columbia University, was fired after 6 weeks on the job. My work was promptly published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

I demanded further investigation into Felig's published work, and it turned out that he had been committing fraud for many years. At least a dozen of his papers published in very prestigious journals, such as Science, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, had to be withdrawn because they were fake—full of falsified data.

Medscape: Other young scientists may not have felt comfortable questioning the work of more senior colleagues. What gave you the confidence to do so?

Dr Rodbard: I have always believed that I should stand up for what is right, and I would not allow anyone to intimidate me, no matter how powerful or "important" they might have been.


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