Lorraine Hanlon Comanor, a champion ice skater in her teenage years, has moved from careers as a practicing anesthesiologist to clinical research.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1946, Lorraine Hanlon was the only child of a stockbroker and an artist and Harvard art historian. As a child, she suffered from severe asthma and one day, in desperation, her mother took her to an ice rink to escape the effects of pollen. She grew up to be an award-winning figure skater, alongside such other Olympic champions as Tenley Albright and Dick Button. She was also an amateur herpetologist, a snake expert.
As a skater she trained in Lake Placid, New York; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Vienna, Austria; and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. She became the United States Junior Ladies Figure Skating Champion in 1962, and the United States Senior Ladies Figure Skating Champion in 1963. Just after her fifteenth birthday, as the National Junior Champion, she was invited to take part in a World Team exhibition tour and booked a flight to Prague, Czechoslovakia. Administrators at Boston's exclusive Winsor School did not approve. The school opposed her skating, and regarded it with what she has described as a sense of shame. Any publications about Comanor's skating were promptly removed from Winsor's library shelves. She was told that if she went on the World Team tour, she would have to find another school on her return. Tearfully, the afternoon before her scheduled departure, she decided to stay home. Tragically, most of the team died in a plane crash the next day, en route to the World Championships in Prague. For weeks after the crash, she says, she does not remember either being in school or in the rink. She did carry on, however, and two years later became the United States Ladies Figure Skating Champion.
After graduating from Harvard in 1968, Lorraine Hanlon went to medical school at Stanford University. She did an internship in pediatrics at San Francisco Children's Hospital and a residency in anesthesia at Stanford University Hospital. After a year in England and Japan, she moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1974, and practiced anesthesia there for the next twenty years.
Dr. Comanor observes that anesthesia is not a "user-friendly" practice when it comes to combining family and medicine. By the time her third child was born, she was spending much of her time on hospital administration and insurance plans, and the department of surgery wanted to control the anesthesia schedule by assigning anesthesiologists to certain cases. Yet she believed her highly specialized skills would not allow her to move to another field. She also remembered what she had heard during interviews for medical school: "If we take you, we are depriving a perfectly good man a chance of a medical education. You may abandon us for family and children." There was an unspoken quota of about 10 percent for women at the time she went to medical school. In her class of sixty medical students at Stanford, there were only six women.
By chance, Dr. Comanor had an opportunity to participate in some analgesic clinical trials, and eventually moved from clinical practice to research. She currently works mostly in the department of scientific affairs for nucleic acid diagnostics at Bayer, coordinating and helping to design their U.S. and Canadian hepatitis clinical and laboratory studies. She has found it challenging to make the switch from clinical practice to clinical research. As she says, "I remember my first day in the lab trying to learn how to run a branched DNA assay. I had been out of the lab for over twenty years: it was pretty scary...I found that the Ph.D.'s with whom I now worked were far more precise scientists than I had ever been trained to be. My thought processes needed an overhaul."
But as much as Dr. Comanor misses her patients, she has enjoyed developing new skills. She has had the help of a number of leaders in both hepatology and laboratory medicine, including a supervisor who helps her think as much like a scientist as a physician. Her experience has given her a fresh outlook, and to the belief that it is possible to have several different careers within the practice of medicine.