Jane E. Koehler

Born: June 1953 | Lincoln, NE, US

Jane E. Koehler was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and graduated from Vassar College, Though she had first intended to pursue a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, she soon decided to earn a master's degree instead and pursue a medical education. She attended George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, where she received an MD in 1984. After a postdoc there, Koehler began working at the University of California, San Francisco, as a Clinical Instructor of Medicine in the Infectious Diseases Department. She rose through the ranks to Associate Professor of Medicine in Residence in the Infectious Diseases Department. Her current research focuses on tracing the complex life cycle of Bartonella and its role in the frequent infection of immunocompromised patients.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0543
No. of pages: 122
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
2-4 March 2001
Salk Institute for Biological Studies, San Diego, California

Abstract of Interview

Jane E. Koehler was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1953, the third of four sisters. Her father was the son of German-American farmers from Missouri; he was a World War II veteran who was the first in his family to attend college and would later go on to obtain a master's degree and a PhD in soil chemistry. Koehler's mother was of Danish parentage and also grew up in Missouri. She earned her master's degree in food science. Both of Koehler's parents taught at Washington State University during the majority of her childhood. From a young age, she was very interested in medicine, and she credits her sisters with being a considerable influence on her personal ambition and success. Koehler graduated from Vassar College in 1975. She struggled with Hashimoto's thyroiditis during this period, and although she found it hard to adjust to student life, Koehler applied to graduate schools and matriculated into a PhD Program at the University of California, Berkeley. She then decided to earn a master's degree in microbiology instead of a PhD in order to pursue a medical education. Koehler worked as a research associate while she took her MCAT and applied to medical schools. She was eventually accepted into the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, where she received an MD in 1984, and met her husband, Stephen X. Nahm. The couple moved to California so that Koehler could begin internship rotations at the University of California, San Francisco. It was there that she became much more interested in the study of infectious diseases. In 1984 Koehler was awarded an infectious disease fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco, where she researched the causative agents of bacillary angiomatosis in Dr. Richard S. Stephens' lab and later in Nina Agabian's lab. In 1988 Koehler began working at the University of California, San Francisco, as a Clinical Instructor of Medicine in the Infectious Diseases Department. She rose through the ranks from Research Microbiologist to Assistant Professor and was eventually appointed Associate Professor of Medicine in Residence in the Infectious Diseases Department. Her current research focuses on tracing the complex life cycle of Bartonella and its role in the frequent infection of immunocompromised patients. Throughout her oral history Koehler points out the many obstacles that women face when undertaking a professional career, and she stresses the importance of positive female mentors. She has won several awards including the American Medical Women's Association Scholarship Achievement Citation, the ICAAC Young Investigator Award, the Pierre Richard Dick-Virbac Fondation First International Award and a Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1975 Vassar College BA
1987 University of California, Berkeley MA Microbiology
1984 George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences MD

Professional Experience

University of California, San Francisco

1984 to 1987
Intern and Resident, Internal Medicine
1987 to 1988
Postdoctoral Clinical Fellow, Division of Infectious Diseases
1988 to 1992
Research Fellow, Divisions of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Pharmacology/Experimental Therapeutics
1988 to 1992
Clinical Instructor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases
1991 to 1992
Assistant Research Microbiologist, Department of Laboratory Medicine
1992 to 1994
Assistant Adjunct Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases
1994 to 1998
Assistant Professor of Medicine in Residence, Division of Infectious Diseases
1998
Associate Professor of Medicine in Residence, Division of Infectious Diseases

Honors

Year(s) Award
1984

American Medical Women's Association Scholarship Achievement Citation

1984

ICAAC Young Investigator Award (American Society for Microbiology)

1994 to 1995

Pierre Richard Dick-Virbac Foundation First International Award

1994 to 1998

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

1997

American Society for Clinical Investigation

Table of Contents

Growing Up
1

Family background. Living in Washington. Early interest in medicine. Early science experiments. Meaningful influences. Parental expectations. Religious upbringing. Religion and science. School. Influential teachers. Applying to colleges.

Undergraduate Career
15

Attends Vassar College. Courses and influential professors. Social life. Struggle with Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Activities. Applying to medical and graduate schools.

Graduate School Education
24

Enters Ph.D. Program at University of California, Berkeley. Research in Terry Leighton's lab. Decides against Ph.D. Earns Master's degree in microbiology. Work as research associate. Re-taking the MCAT. Re-applies to medical schools. Accepted to George Washington Medical School. Joins National Health Service Corps. Meets husband Stephen X. Nahm. Moving to California. Academic family history. Siblings' education and lives. Impact of professional careers on women. Difficulties with having children for women scientists. Gender biases in academia. Importance of female mentors.

Medical Internship and Residency
31

Choosing internal medicine Internship rotations. Interest in infectious diseases. Service obligations to National Health Service Corps. Residency at University of California, San Francisco. Camaraderie among female physicians.

Postdoctoral Research
55

Clinical infectious disease fellowship in Richard Stephens' lab. Identifies Bartonella quintana as causative agent of bacillary angiomatosis. Chlamydia trachomatis research. Research on bacillary Angiomatosis in Nina Agabian's lab. Looks for a job.

Life as a Principal Investigator
60

Employment and promotion structure at UCSF. Finding lab space. Grants. Teaching. Bartonella quintana epidemiology. Publication. Administrative responsibilities. Diversity of lab personnel. Work hours. Research with cat scratch fever. Typical day. Finding time for family. Gardening. Travel. Seeing patients. scientific discovery. Applications of research. Competition and collaboration. Ethics of falsifying data; human cloning; genetically modified foods. Regulating science. Goals. Challenges of academic research. Alternativecareer paths.

Index
118

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen