(BA, Biology, ’72)
Q & A:
- What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
There are so many wonderful memories, I’d like to hop into a time machine and go back to Hofstra. I found the Biology Department exciting, inspiring, warm, and friendly. My experiences in Cell Biology, Ornithology, Comparative Anatomy, Ichthyology, Botany, and Plant Physiology stirred a love for learning about the natural world and a desire to know more about what makes us tick. The comradery of students and staff in that department made field trips in birding and mammalian biology memorable. And friends that I made during those years are still my friends today. One is Professor William Haut, who made learning fun and relevant. His enthusiasm and kindness have helped me over the years.
- What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing learned in that position?
While obtaining my undergraduate degree, I worked as a lab assistant in the Biology Department, preparing materials for the “wet labs.” Part of my job included helping students master the information during their time in the lab. After graduation, I enrolled in a few graduate courses at the University. With very short notice, a Long Island high school called the Biology Department, hoping to find a replacement for a high school biology teacher who could not start the September term. The department recommended me based on their observation of my work with students during the laboratory sessions. I interviewed and got the job. Hofstra’s trust in me provided a foundation of self-confidence and a lifelong love of learning and teaching.
- What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
I am a clinical pathologist with a specialty in toxicology. I never thought about becoming a physician until later in life, and when I became the first woman chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Tufts Medical Center/Tufts University School of Medicine, I was thrilled. After initially teaching high school, I pursued a master’s degree in marine science, looking at the effects of pesticides on algal cells while teaching at a local college, and later obtained a PhD studying cancer cell metabolism with the idea of becoming a scientist. Working in the laboratory during my undergraduate years instilled in me a love of science.
Later, as a researcher at one of the Harvard teaching hospitals, I studied the effects of certain toxins on cells, which stoked my appreciation for the gifts from plants and animals – their chemical self-defense mechanisms have provided us with medically relevant drugs and tools for teasing out how cells work.
I am a curious person, and to me, the beauty of science is finding and solving puzzles. That’s the job of a pathologist, so it was a good fit. Not many people know what a pathologist does. We are sometimes called the “the doctor’s doctor” because other physicians rely on us as consultants. Pathologists are the puzzle solvers and give the treating physician information to help them manage the patient. We are physicians who diagnose disease using tissues, cells, or body fluids and, based on those results, help determine prognosis and treatment. Pathologists make it happen if you need a blood test, a biopsy, or a COVID-19 test.
- What advice would you give Hofstra students?
Pursue your dreams and embrace life’s twists and turns. It’s never too late to start a career or obtain a degree.
- In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
Eye-opening. Hofstra opened up a world for me. It wasn’t just the academics; it was the experiences. Lifelong learning and friends are my rewards.
- When did you decide to pursue a full-time career writing fiction? What inspired the change?
Life is short. Love what you do and do what you love. Writing fiction is my fourth career. I started out as a teacher (high school, college), became a scientist, went to medical school to become a pathologist, and now I write fiction full time. I use my medical knowledge to create an authentic feel in my novels and have my protagonist “teach” some science along the way. My series of political thrillers is about a pathologist recruited by the government for her knowledge of poisons and toxins. Dr. Lily Robinson (The Queen of All Poisons, The Power of Poison, and A Message in Poison) is a complex character who does what she is asked to save her country – “the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.” (https://www.bjmagnani.com).
- What experiences in your career have been most meaningful?
Two experiences stand out to me, and both involved providing services to people who have not had the opportunities I’ve had.
Early in my career, I taught in a program teaching science to adults who had encountered barriers in obtaining an education. This course was a bridge between high school and college. I was humbled by these adults, many older than I, who never had the chance to learn about their bodies or the world around us.
Later as a physician, I worked with the College of American Pathologists (CAP) Foundation to bring free breast and cervical cancer screening to those in need. I believe that everyone should have access to quality healthcare. Unfortunately, many women face cultural or economic barriers to obtaining preventive medical care – lack of insurance, the inability to take a day off from work, or an inadequate understanding of how simple cancer screening procedures like a Pap test, or breast exam/mammography can save lives. The CAP Foundation provides a model of care to help overcome these difficulties, and I’m proud to support that initiative.
Giving back is important to me, so a portion of the proceeds from the sales of my novels are donated to the CAP Foundation for the See, Test & Treat program.
- Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
I’m at a loss to name one person. I attended college when the women’s movement produced major cultural shifts, and changes to the law, in this country. The realization that I could pursue a career in science came during the start of my junior year at Hofstra. While women role models were rare in those days, now there are organizations like WiMS (Women in Medicine and Science) to help women in their profession. Mentoring is important. So, I’d like to thank the many teachers, colleagues, friends, and family who encouraged me to pursue my dreams.
Barbarajean Magnani, PhD, MD, FCAP – professor of anatomic and clinical pathology emerita, and former chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA – is internationally recognized for her expertise in clinical chemistry and toxicology. During her career, she received three Outstanding Speaker Awards from the Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC); and, from the College of American Pathologists (CAP)/CAP Foundation, the 2012 Outstanding Communicator Award, the 2014 Distinguished Patient Care Award, and the 2014 Gene and Jean Herbek Humanitarian Award. Dr. Magnani also received the Distinguished Career in Teaching Award from the Tufts University School of Medicine in 2019. In addition, she was named a Top Doctor in Boston magazine and was included by Castle Connolly in its list of Exceptional Women in Medicine. Dr. Magnani was also named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Laboratory Medicine Professionals in the World by The Pathologist.
Dr. Magnani – former chair of the CAP Toxicology Committee and member of the CAP Council on Scientific Affairs – has served as the member-at-large of the Therapeutic Drug Management and Toxicology Division of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC) and as an editor of Clinical and Forensic Toxicology News. Dr. Magnani is also one of the editors of The Clinical Toxicology Laboratory: Contemporary Practice of Poisoning Evaluation, 2nd edition (AACC Press), and Clinical Toxicology Testing: A Guide for Laboratory Professionals, 2nd edition (CAP Press).
Her works of fiction include Lily Robinson and the Art of Secret Poisoning (nVision Press), and the Dr. Lily Robinson series, The Queen of All Poisons, The Power of Poison, and A Message in Poison (Encircle Publications).
Dr. Magnani is committed to helping women receive free breast and cervical cancer screening through the CAP Foundation’s See, Test, & Treat program. A portion of the proceeds from her novels helps support this effort.