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Dr. Judith Lea Swain

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1948

Medical School

University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine


North Carolina

Career Path

Internal medicine: Cardiology
Dr. Judith Lea Swain


Since she first registered a method for restoring purine nucleotide pools in 1986, Dr. Judith Swain has developed two more patents in the field of cardiology.


I loved science and I thought it would be great to use that knowledge to help people.


Judith Lea Swain, M.D., is a specialist in cardiology. As well as patient care, Dr. Swain has worked in many areas of medicine, from research to invention, publishing to hospital administration, professional consulting to academic leadership. She also has mentored others in the development of their medical careers.

When she first decided to become a physician as a junior high school student, Judith Swain's goal was more general, to combine her love of science with helping people. Born in Long Beach, California, in 1948, Judith Swain earned her bachelor of science degree in chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1970. She earned her doctor of medicine degree at the University of California, San Diego, in 1974, and went on for her internship and residency at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, where she later held fellowships in cardiovascular research and clinical cardiology. In 1979, she joined the faculty at Duke, where she stayed until 1991. While there, she became widely known in the field of molecular cardiology and pioneered the use of transgenic animals to understand the genetic basis of cardiovascular development and disease.

From 1991 to 1996, she was the Herbert C. Rohrer Professor of Medical Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a professor of genetics and member of the molecular biology graduate group. In 1997, Dr. Swain became the Arthur L. Bloomfield Professor of Medicine and chair of the Department of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Swain has had major research grant support (average awards over $500,000) from a number of grant funding agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), from whom she has received research funding for the past 20 years. She holds an NIH M.E.R.I.T. award for her work on the developmental biology of the cardiovascular system, and her research has focused on the role of growth factors in angiogenesis, the development of blood vessels.

Dr. Swain holds several patents, including two patents for methods of increasing the energy metabolism of heart and skeletal muscle, and one for a method of identifying patients at risk for heart failure. She has published more than sixty articles and book chapters in the field of cardiology.

Dr. Swain has been elected to a number of honorary societies, including the Association of American Physicians, the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of University Cardiologists, the American Clinical and Climatological Society, and the Institute of Medicine.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was still somewhat unusual for a girl to want to be a doctor. I can remember one of my junior high school teachers telling me that I really should not think about being a doctor, but rather I should be a nurse since that was a more realistic goal. During training in cardiology, it was still somewhat unusual to be a women cardiologist, so it took some effort to convince patients and other doctors that women could do that specialty.

How do I make a difference?

I think I have made a difference with some of the scientific discoveries that I have made, and in some of the patients I have cared for. The biggest difference I believe that I have made is in mentoring young trainees, whether they be medical students, interns, residents, or fellows.

Who was my mentor?

Virtually all of my mentors were successful academic physicians, many of whom were academic cardiologists. Tom Smith and Gene Braunwald from Harvard, Jim Willerson from the University of Texas at Houston, and Holly Smith from the University of California, San Francisco come to mind. One of the most important influences on my career and life was my husband, Edward Holmes, who is now vice chancellor and dean at the University of California, San Diego.

How has my career evolved over time?

I started out as a faculty member by running my own laboratory while also being an active invasive cardiologist. As the findings in the laboratory became more important, I devoted most of my time to the lab. Then I moved on to being chief of cardiology, where I spend a good portion of my time trying to help others develop their careers. I now run a large department and spend the majority of my time in administrative activities. I have moved my own scholarly program from running my own molecular/cellular biology laboratory, to working on initiatives at a national level. I currently spend a good deal of time as an advisor to the Department of Defense and work on projects such as thinking about ways to better select and train elite war-fighters such as the Navy SEALS.