In this issue, HCV Next asks five questions of Catherine T. Frenette, MD, of the Department of Organ Transplantation at Scripps Green Hospital in San Diego.
Catherine T. Frenette
After obtaining her medical degree at Rush Medical College in Chicago, Frenette completed a residency in internal medicine at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego and a fellowship in gastroenterology and hepatology at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, Calif.
Frenette was medical director of liver transplantation and director of the hepatocellular carcinoma program at The Methodist Hospital in Houston before joining Scripps. She also spent 5 years with the transplant program at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, where she held numerous roles including medical director of the transplantation outreach program in Las Vegas.
The Scripps Transplant Center welcomed Frenette in 2012 as medical director of liver transplantation. Her main areas of focus include pre- and post-transplant patients, along with patients with a variety of liver and biliary diseases including hepatitis B, cirrhosis, HCC, autoimmune hepatitis and hemochromatosis.
Her research has been presented nationally and published in numerous scientific and medical journals. Frenette holds memberships in a number of professional organizations including the American Society of Transplantation, the American Gastroenterology Association and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.
What are your hobbies outside of practicing medicine?
I have a large animal family, with three cats and two dogs. Those take up most of the free time and hobby time for my husband and me! I also am learning to play the mandolin, and almost can play Space Oddity by David Bowie. I love to read, and am a big fan of historical novels, like Ken Follett’s books that are set in World War II.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career?
By far and away, Paul J. Pockros, MD, at Scripps Clinic has had the greatest influence. I met him when I was a resident and immediately, he took me under his wing. He kept me headed in the right direction through my career so far. I think of him as my surrogate father!
What was the defining moment that led you to your field?
When I was 17 years old, my 15-year-old brother was in an accident. He was an organ donor. It was a terrible time in my life, but about 6 months after his death, we received a letter from the organ procurement organization that described where each of his organs went and the lives he saved. It didn’t make his death any easier, but at least something good came out of his tragedy. That is where I first became interested in transplantation.
When I was first in medical school, I hated the liver. It was so complicated! Then, when I was a third year medical student, I did a rotation with Donald M. Jensen, MD. He was the first person that explained the liver in a way that made sense to me, and I was completely hooked!
What area of research in hepatology most interests you right now and why?
Right now, I am very interested in HCC, and especially the molecular diagnostics surrounding it. We are doing some very interesting research on circulating tumor cells, which could turn into a sort of “liquid biopsy.” HCC is such a varied disease, and it will be wonderful to eventually understand why tumors act so differently, and create a personalized treatment plan for each patient. Hopefully, this will also help to appropriately choose patients that will benefit most from transplantation and decrease the rate of recurrences that we are experiencing.
What advice would you offer a student in medical school today?
Choose the area of medicine that you love, dedicate yourself to it, and work hard at it, but also don’t forget to have a good work-life balance. You don’t want to look up when you’re 60 and realize that you missed your whole life by being at work!