“We lost all of our tissue samples and more than half of our department,” says Dr. Patricia Molina, M.D., Ph.D., describing the toll Hurricane Katrina took on the LSUHSC Department of Physiology. In 2008, Molina was named head of the ailing department. “It was my job to help rebuild and reignite what was once a vibrant and successful department.

She says she’s proud of the results. “We really have a strong training program for this area’s health workers and we’re doing some exciting research – on the affects of alcohol use on brain injury for example. We’re getting a lot of grants from the NIH, and our faculty is receiving some good recognition.”

After falling in love with research not long after completing her M.D. at the Universidead Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala, Molina has conducted studies on a wide range of topics, the majority focusing on alcohol and drug abuse. In 2009, she became the director of the LSUHSC’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center of Excellence.

“The goal of this center has always been to be a community resource,” she says. “We’ve really found a niche that nobody else has investigated, namely how alcohol affects areas of the body like the liver, intestines and muscles.”

Molina says the center is making efforts to become known in the community. “We’ve taken field trips to LSU, for example, to teach students about how alcohol affects the brain. And we’re going to have our first community focused event, educating teachers and counselors, as well as medical professionals, Aug. 10 and 11.”

 “We want to provide a better understanding of how alcohol and drugs of abuse impact our health and behavior to our trainees and community at large,” she says, while working toward her goal to make the center a resource for researchers, health care providers and the community at large.

Mentor: My first and most influential mentor was my mother. From her I learned organizational skills, discipline, perseverance and pride in a job well done. Since her I have had multiple mentors, including John J. Spitzer, M.D.; Greg J. Bagby, Ph.D.; Chuck Lang, Ph.D.; Mike Levitzky, Ph.D.; and Naji N. Abumrad, M.D.

Defining moment: There are two defining moments in my career: the birth of my first son and Hurricane Katrina. The first was the pivotal event that led me to change directions from clinical medicine to biomedical research in an effort to maintain a better balanced life. The second gave me the opportunity to rebuild our department at LSU and to serve as a leader and mentor for our trainees and faculty.

 Advice for young women: Dream big and work to achieve your dreams. Do not settle for less. Believe in your ability to succeed and do not let anyone tell you it can’t be done. Be willing to work hard for something that you believe in. Know what you want, and once you do, go after it with all your might.

Goals: In addition to the goals at the center, I want to make the department of physiology at LSUHSC a first class academic setting where students are challenged, encouraged, and rewarded; faculty are appreciated and encouraged to achieve their full potential; and research provides new knowledge to be integrated into our understanding of health and disease.

Favorite thing about what I do: Promote, encourage and challenge trainees and junior faculty. To see them achieve their potential and recognize their talent is the most rewarding part of my job.