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Dr. Marianne J. Legato

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1935

Medical School

New York University School of Medicine


New York

Career Path

Internal medicine: Cardiology
Education: Teaching
Dr. Marianne J. Legato


Dr. Legato founded the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.


My first role model was my father, a general practitioner who delivered babies and cared for them until they grew up, aged, and died. By dint of enormous effort and great perseverance, he became a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the chief of surgery in our local hospital. He had no time to spend with his family except on very rare occasions; those occasions for me were the times I was allowed to accompany him on Sunday morning rounds at the hospital and on house calls. If the patient was considered non-contagious, I was allowed to go inside with him and stay with other family members while he tended to the patient. On the way to each call, he would explain to me the essence of the illness he was treating. I never forgot the compelling clarity of his teaching, comprehensible even to a very young child. I still remember vividly the nurses rising to their feet as he entered the nursing station, and the gratitude of our small town at holidays, when our back stairs would be laden with gifts from patients who simply left their offerings without even ringing our bell (knowing he would be across the street in his office, until eleven or twelve o'clock at night).

By the time I was three years old, I knew I would one day go to medical school and emulate his career. I wanted a life like his; it seemed intellectually fascinating and his early lessons filled me with wonder about the intricacy and marvels of the human body. Moreover, like his patients, I considered him a magical individual with enormous power, and my sense of what a physician is was largely built on my experience of him. Some Sundays he would take me to New York City for lunch at an elegant hotel, but before we dined, we would sit in the hotel lobby and he would teach me physical diagnosis, remarking on the skin tone, gait, expression and other characteristics of the people passing by.


Dr. Marianne J. Legato is an internationally recognized specialist in women's health and the founder and director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. She has devoted much of her research to the subject of women and heart disease and in 1992 won the American Heart Association's Blakeslee Award for a book she wrote for the public on women and heart disease. She is the founder and editor of The Journal of Gender-Specific Medicine and a leading advocate for the inclusion of women in clinical trials.

Marianne J. Legato was born in 1935, in New York. She grew up accompanying her father, a general practitioner, on house calls and hospital rounds, and knew by the age of 3 that she wanted to follow him into a career in medicine. Although he had high expectations for his daughter, her father was anxious to protect her and opposed her decision to go to medical school. She enrolled at his alma mater, New York University College of Medicine, but could not persuade him to allow her to have her independence and a career in medicine.

Sadly, Dr. Legato was forced to begin her career without the support of her family. She credits her success in medical school and after graduation to the mentorship of Dr. Jose Ferrer and Dr. M. Irené Ferrer, whom she met at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. M. Irené Ferrer even visited the dean of New York University College of Medicine to arrange for Legato to complete her tuition, and paid the fees herself. Dr. Legato has two children, Christiana and Justin, who have grown up as part of Dr. Ferrer's extended family and know her as "gran".

After graduating in 1962, Dr. Legato completed an internship and junior residency at Bellevue Hospital and a senior residency at the Presbyterian Hospital of the City of New York. From 1965 to 1968 she was a visiting fellow in cardiology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and in 1968 she was appointed instructor in medicine, beginning an academic career at the university, which she continues today as a professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Since 1969, Dr. Legato has been an attending physician at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, and since 1973 she has also worked as physician in medicine at the Presbyterian Hospital in the City of New York. She is currently senior attending physician at St. Luke's-Roosevelt and has been an attending physician at the Presbyterian Hospital since 1998. She has held several teaching appointments and committee memberships at both institutions, and in 1997 founded the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She is also the founder and editor of the Journal of Gender-Specific Medicine.

As director of the Partnership, Dr. Legato promotes collaboration between academic medicine and the private sector to promote research on gender-specific medicine. Her mission is to ensure the inclusion of women in clinical trials of relevance to the health of both sexes, to promote the study of differences in the biology of men and women and how gender affects the diagnosis and treatment of disease, for the benefit of all patients. The Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine is raising funds for the M. Irené Ferrer Professorship in Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University.

Dr. Legato has won extensive professional recognition for her work, including the Martha Lyon Slater Fellowship from 1965 to 1968 and in 1971, the J. Murray Steele Award, both from the New York Heart Association. In 2002 she received the Woman in Science Award from the American Medical Women's Association.

Dr. Legato is also a popular author and speaker for non-medical audiences, and in 1992 won the American Heart Association's Blakeslee Award for the best book on cardiovascular disease written for the lay public. She has appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show and was named and 'American Health Hero' by American Health for Women magazine in 1997 and A 'Heroine of Women's Health' by the Ladies Home Journal in the fall of 2000.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

When my family -particularly my father- realized that I would indeed apply to medical school, he was seized with a terrible ambivalence. As a first generation American whose parents had come from Calabria, he was conflicted between wanting an American child of his to succeed far beyond his own achievement and his deeply ingrained wariness about allowing a daughter (and his only daughter, at that) too free to roam at

will in a dangerous world. Ultimately, he opposed my medical career, although it was he who chose my medical school: the very one to which he himself had gone, New York University College of Medicine. He became profoundly anxious when it was clear that not only was I loving medical school, but doing so well in my classes that it was apparent that I would, in fact, actually graduate and become a physician. He demanded in a series of confrontations that I never will forget that I abandon any thoughts of marriage and children if I were, in fact, determined to persevere in my schooling and told me the only way he would consider supporting my education was if I agreed to never marry, and to practice at his side in his office. Of course, that was not the way I planned to live my life, and after a long and dreadful conflict we parted, never to speak again for almost thirty years. This family opposition and indeed, my family's sudden refusal to support my medical education, was the biggest obstacle to my becoming a physician.

How do I make a difference?

A complicated question. I am proud of what I have achieved. Interestingly, and perhaps predictably, the last third of my medical career has been devoted to demonstrating the intellectual imperative of studying women, and of helping women to understand their enormous importance in helping us refashion our essentially male models of normal human function and the pathophysiology of disease. I advocate the use of biological sex/gender as an important variable in medical investigation; I believe that to do so is to provoke questions we never would otherwise have asked. Gender-Specific research is crescendoing into a position of crucial importance in medicine; last month I was invited to address the Special Interest Group in Women's Health at the NIH. To my great delight, they changed their name to the Special Interest Group in Gender-Specific Medicine after my visit there. I think my career has been varied and useful, and although I acknowledge that some of my path has been off the beaten track, as it were, I think I have been instrumental in pointing out that studying women is an intellectual imperative, that women's health is more than a political or feminist issue or a marketing tool for hospitals and that ultimately, women are making men an offer they can't refuse.

Who was my mentor?

Fortunately, through a series of unbelievably serendipitous circumstances, I met Doctors Irené and Jose M. Ferrer at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. They both championed my continuing in medical school in spite of the fact that I had no money and believed that finishing my education was impossible. Doctor Irené Ferrer personally visited Dean Hubbard and persuaded him to let me continue my studies. She herself personally paid my tuition. The Ferrer family has functioned as a tremendous resource and support throughout not only my training, but for the remainder of my life. My mentor, as I have discussed in other interviews, was Doctor Irene Ferrer. I had other role models as well: her colleague, Doctor Rejane Harvey, Doctor Jose Ferrer, and, just as truly, his wife, Mary Ferrer. But Irene Ferrer was my chief influence and teacher.

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