Pediatric surgeon, researcher, educator and former chief of pediatric surgery Patricia Donahoe, MD, (Sargent’58) will deliver the Sargent College commencement address on May 22. Director of Pediatric Surgical Research Laboratories at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Donahoe will address undergraduate and graduate students from the Sargent Class of 2022 earning degrees in health disciplines including health science, human physiology, nutrition, athletic training, physical therapy, speech, language & hearing sciences, and occupational therapy.
A trailblazer for women in medicine, Dr. Donahoe joined the Department of Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in 1973, and 13 years later, became the Marshall K. Bartlett Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, the school’s first female professor of surgery. In 1984, she was named chief of pediatric surgery at MGH – the first woman to lead an MGH Surgery Division – serving in that role until 2003.
Dr. Donahoe’s surgical contributions have been in pediatric urological and tracheoesophageal reconstructions. Her research primarily focuses on sex differentiation, the purification of Müllerian Inhibiting Substance (MIS) protein, and the cloning of the MIS gene and its receptors to study their roles in the growth, diagnosis, and treatment of ovarian and other reproductive tumors. Dr. Donahoe has dedicated more than 40 years to this study of MIS, a protein produced by male embryos that could someday treat ovarian cancer. She founded the lab she leads at MGH to study MIS and other areas of developmental biology that hold promise for improving patient care. The lab is currently working on a variety of clinical applications for MIS, including its use as a contraceptive, as an adjuvant therapy to increase the efficacy for in vitro fertilization, and as an agent to protect the eggs of women of reproductive age undergoing chemotherapy.
More recently, she has also focused on congenital birth defects. Her work brought MGH to the forefront of surgical correction of many birth defects in newborns, including tracheoesophageal cleft, a condition in which the trachea and the esophagus fail to separate as the baby develops in the womb, and diaphragmatic hernia, a rare condition in which babies have a defect in the diaphragm and associated, often lethal, lung hypoplasia. Dr. Donahoe’s lab studies the gene defects that cause these abnormalities in hopes of developing drugs that can treat the conditions in utero.
Dr. Donahoe is a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A member of the Sargent College Dean’s Advisory Board, she was a Boston University Trustee from 1994 to 2009 and is currently an Honorary Trustee. She has served as president of the Boston Surgical Society, New England Surgical Society, and the American Pediatric Surgical Association. She is a past chair of the Scientific Advisory Board at St. Jude Medical Center and has been a member of the Scientific Advisory Board at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the NICHD National Advisory Council.
Dr. Donahoe has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed publications, written two books and more than 50 book chapters. Her research has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1976, and she has trained and mentored more than 100 fellows in her laboratory.
Among her many accolades, she has been awarded the American Surgical Association’s Flance-Karl Award and the Gold Medallion. She has won the prestigious Fred Conrad Koch Lifetime Achievement Award from the Endocrine Society and the William Ladd Medal from the American Academy of Pediatrics. An avid athlete, Dr. Donahoe is in the Boston University Athletic Hall of Fame and planned to become a physical education teacher until studying human physiology at Sargent College inspired her to attend medical school.
Born and raised in Boston, Mass., Dr. Donahoe completed her undergraduate degree at BU Sargent College, an MD at Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons, and her surgical residency at Tufts New England Medical Center.
The BU Sargent College Convocation is available to livestream from our website. The event will be followed by the All University Commencement at 1 p.m. For more information about graduation activities at Boston University, please visit BU’s commencement page.