Dr. Naomi Rothfield (front, center in both photos) is pictured with a group of rheumatology fellows in 1976, at left, and among the UConn Health doctors named to Connecticut Magazine’s 2012 Top Docs list, at right.
When Dr. Naomi Rothfield arrived at the new University of Connecticut School of Medicine in summer 1968 as a young rheumatologist, UConn Health’s Farmington campus did not yet exist. The autoimmune diseases she studied and treated, like lupus and scleroderma, were often fatal within two years of diagnosis. She had gone through medical school at New York University in a class with only six women and 125 men.
In the nearly 50 years since Rothfield was hired as a founding faculty member of the medical school, much has changed. UConn Health’s physical presence includes several state-of-the-art new buildings on the 106-acre Farmington site, as well as clinics throughout the state. Lupus and scleroderma are no longer death sentences, but treatable illnesses (Rothfield still sees a lupus patient who first came to her in 1966). And today, women make up just about half of medical school students nationwide.
But it wasn’t just the changes around her that made her career monumental — it was the changes Rothfield, 87, effected herself before her retirement this March.
“Dr. Rothfield is a legend in the field of medicine,” says Dr. Augustus D. Mazzocca, chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and director of the Musculoskeletal Institute at UConn Health. “She is a pioneer who always put patients and education before all else, an example for all people involved in health care.”
Despite numerous honors and achievements, the ever-modest Rothfield doesn’t see it that way. But just let her CV speak for her: She built from the ground up UConn’s Division of Rheumatic Diseases as its chief from 1973 to 1999, training dozens of leading rheumatologists worldwide (she does admit that’s her proudest accomplishment). She brought in millions in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health to conduct trailblazing research in her field, deepening the understanding of rheumatic diseases through over 150 published papers and 40 book chapters. And in the 1970s, she fought for equal pay for women at the University.
Her love for teaching and interacting with her longtime patients kept her going for so many years, she says. But now it’s time to visit her four children and six grandchildren, exercise, and travel with her husband, Dr. Lawrence Rothfield.
“I stayed at UConn because I was happy here,” Rothfield says. “It’s time to retire and enjoy myself. I have a few other things I want to do.”
Dr. Rothfield reflects on her career.